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Bits and bobs about my life in my lovely home, Thatchwick Cottage, Pretoria, South Africa.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

31 March,'09: An old time garden in Irene

The second visit I made last Saturday was to the original farmhouse and garden of the Irene Dairy Farm in the old and stately suburb of Irene on the southern outskirts of Pretoria.

Why do we take uncomfortable and expensive flights trips to Europe when we have such beauty here?

A sculpture of tree trunks.

And a gracious sun-spattered avenue.

The local Rotary club hosted tea and cake in the grounds and local artists showed their wares.

A secret glade.

Indigeneous crocosmias tell us that autumn is on the way.

Black and white swans complete the picture.

Not a bad afternoon's entertainment at ZAR 10 (one US dollar) per visit? For South African readers, do buy The Gardener mag at your local store. It is reasonable, full of gardening tips and advertises the open gardens in all major centres. Nope, I am not on the editorial!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Saturday, 28 March '09: A Highveld grass garden

Pretoria does not have any striking geographical features. It is situated on the highveld or high grasslands of the interior of South Africa. Lying in a hollow, surrounded by rocky hills, the environs are pleasant but not spectacular. However, it is a city of garden lovers and March is the month of open gardens on display. I visited two last Saturday. This new and most imposing house is found in a new upmarket estate, Cornwall Hill. The latter is a development, which like all similar ventures, has the potential of destroying more of the natural environment. Fortunately in this case the owners limited their formal garden to a small perimeter around the house. The remainder of the huge estate has been more or less left to showcase the indigenous grasses, shrubs and flowers.

Meandering stone paths take you through the rocky grassland. At first I felt let down. Was this all that I had come to see? Then I began to discover the treasures.

A succulent growing in a crack of multi-coloured rock.
Plectranthus spreading at the foot of a knobbly rock whose grooves were filled with spiders' webs and tufts of grass.
Grasses turning to seed.

Indigeous pelargoniums among the stones.

These beauties made me think of Christ's injunction to consider the flowers of the field, which neither spin nor labour; yet King Solomon in all his glory was never clothed in such splendid beauty. What do you think?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sunday, 22 March: Kindness

Portia said that the quality of mercy is not strained, dropping down as the gentle rain from heaven. I think one can say the same for kindness, such an uncommon common quality. Kindness gets lost among the nobler, flashier virtues like courage, endurance and heroism. It slips by almost unnoticed amidst the business of life. The warm greeting from a stranger, the heartfelt thank you, the genuine inquiry about how you are and the pause so that you can actually answer the question.

Last week I was feeling hurried, harried and harrassed.

My friend dropped in with an armful of patchwork cat which she had sewed specially for me. Now that was kind. This purr-fect kitty found a purr-fect place amidst the brass and copper at the fireplace in my study. Sadly it is only the cat tolerated by Trist and Gal on the grounds of Thatchwick. The 'boys' are kindess in canine form; but cats they cannot abide. (Apologies to Milo and all other beloved cats of Bloglandia. Nothing personal!) My doggos had a faulty upbringing - all our fault. Although Richard and I loved cats, we never managed to raise a kitten and puppy simultaneously.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Thursday, 19 March '09: Full moon

The moon is a white button
Mottled, marbled
Sewn onto the dark fabric
Of early morning.

(From my book of ancient scribblings)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday 16 March '09: Fabulous, stunning, awesome et cetera

Here is my Fabulous Blog award given to me by a new friend, Vicki Lane of Vicki Lane's Mysteries. Vicki is a published author of five mystery novels and her words of commendation to me: Eleanor...for you lovely words and pictures" were a great compliment. Thank you, Vicki! I am passing on the Award and the rules at the bottom of this little posting.

This Award aroused my nostalgia for the vocabulary of my 60's teenagerhood. Everthing was just "Fabulous, fantastic, super or smashing!" From a party to hairdo to a new boyfriend to a pair of low heeled, square toed shoes worn with an extra-short mini skirt.

Of course, for those of us with a British colonial past of some sort, there was that wonderful superlative: 'Jolly' used to preface any other adjective, positive or negative, and lift one's description to the n-th degree. My expressions of: "Jolly nice, jolly delicious, jolly late or even jolly irritating" had my adopted US family (American Field Service days) fascinated with my speech. In Rugby, North Dakota, I learned the current Americanisms to label life's sublime moments "Cool, swell, great or oh-so-neat!"

Hunky-dory had a short spell of popularity in South Africa; today all is stun---ning, darl! Or "Awesome, especially when you wear it!" Then there is the wonderful South African standby: "Lekker!" A translation will render 'nice' but that hardly does justice to the versatility of the word. What does it mean? Fabulous, cool, awesome...take your pick!

The rules of the Fab Blog Award:

1 Pass it on to five other Fabulous Bloggers in a post.

2 Include the person that gave you the award, and link it back to them.

3 List five your Fabulous addictions in the post.

Here are my prize winners. I have chosen four South African bloggers out of the five by way of encouraging a jolly good habit:
1 Adel at The Egypt Experience (I just found she has just been awarded this honour by another fan but I am giving it to her all the same!)
2 Greetings from Gauteng
3 SA Photographs
4 Mom's Meanderings
5 And last but not least, Kathryn Bechen who encouraged me with my first blog posting in 2008.

And here are my own Five Fabulous Addictions:
Reading memoirs
Wearing red
Talking to myself
Rising and retiring very early

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Thursday, 12 March '09: Garden oddment

Fortunately this is not a python straddling the plants in my garden. It is the stem of the delicious monster (deliciosa monstera) which grows so prolifically after summer downpours. The giant leaves plucked from the stem create a pattern reminiscent of some giant snake. Above is a single red hisbiscus ready to be plucked worn behind the ear.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday, 9 March '09: French chic with Fanny Ardant

France's gallery of great actresses and beautiful women is well-stocked. Who would you choose as the eiptome of chic, intelligence and talent? I vote for Fanny Ardant with her flashing black eyes, statuesque build and that attractively over-large mouth. I first encountered Fanny Ardant in the 80's starring in a poignant television mini-series, Women of the coast (English sub-titles) about four women from Normandy and their loves during the horrific vagaries of the Great War. The scene of a berefit Fanny wandering along the grey, wet sands of the Normandy beaches is etched in my imagination. It was in this series that Fanny caught the eye of the great French film maker, Francois Traffaut. Traffaut commented that Fanny was "a woman who makes you think of a woman from another country, without knowing quite which one". He gave Fanny her first big role. She became his companion and the mother of their daughter, Francois, giving birth to her just before Traffaut's death in 1984.

On a Saturday afternoon in 1996 Richard and I enjoyed re-discovering Fanny at the art movie house in Rosebank, Johannesburg in a bitingly witty movie: Ridicule set in the decadent Court of Versailles. Most of you would have seen Fanny as the decidedly wicked Mary of Guise in Elizabeth and, of course, as an elegant and tragic Maria Callas in Callas forever..

Perhaps you have also seen the comedy cum drama: 8 women where Fanny took her place with seven other famous French actresses, like Catherine Deneuve and Isabella Huppert. Set in a snow bound mansion in the 1950's the only man in the house is murdered. Which of the eight women, each with a motive, is to blame? Humour is culturally defined and I found the movie quirky but not side-achingly funny.

Said Traffaut, "I recognised in Fanny Ardant the qualities I generally look for in the female protagonists of my films: courage, enthusiasm, humour, strength but, on the other hand, secrecy, a cruel, wild side and above all something throbbing, alive."

Why don't you try an Ardant movie this weekend?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Friday, 6 March '09: Giraffe news

Raph of Giraffe world, quite recently awarded me the Premio Dardos Award. I have failed to post it as yet - watch that sidebar! In return for this honour, I doing a little post on that most gracious, elegant and serene inhabitant of Africa - the giraffe. Happily I can report that giraffes are doing well here in South Africa where conserved populations are thriving - in the Kruger National Park, the largest national park in South Africa - and on private ranches and game reserves. Last May I even posted my own snap of two giraffes grazing on a golf course in Bloemfontein.

Some giraffical facts: The giraffe is, of course, the tallest animal in the world and it needs a complex blood circulatory system, not fully understood by zoologists, to transmit a blood supply up that incredibly long neck. Long lashed and long tongued, giraffes feed on the leaves of trees not accessible to other herbivores. Giraffes can reach a speed of 55 km but an occupational hazard is broken limbs caused by slipping on wet surfaces. Careful, Raph, in all that snow! Those necks are useful in mating conflicts too. Males use their long powerful necks to strike an opponent's body and males wrestle by twining their necks around each other. The loser is pushed off balance but fights rarely lead to more than that. Otherwise these beautiful animals tranquilly mind their own business and go about life in the African bush with a peaceful air.

An interesting anecdote I read when preparing this blog was about a game ranger in the Kruger National Park who recently observed a female giraffe with a noticeably deformed jaw wandering in a foursome. She was healthy and full grown. In spite of her obvious defect her long tongue functioned well as did her sharp incisors which stripped the leaves and pods from stems.

So who is for a trip to the Kruger National Park to see giraffes and the Big Five: lion, cheetah, rhino, bufffalo and hippo? You can stay with me at Thatchwick en route - and that's a promise!

Thursday, 5 March '09: An interview from Manor to Cottage

Some time ago Willow, the Lady of the Manor and blogger supreme, kindly agreed to interview me. At last, here is our conversation, from Manor to Cottage.
1 How did you come about living in your lovely Thatchwick cottage? Does it have any particular history associated with it?
My family and I moved to Pretoria from Namibia in 1987 - my late husband and I took up new lecturing positions at the University of South Africa (UNISA). We settled happily in a suburb to the east of Pretoria named The Willows; in a modern red brick house within walking distance of the girls' schools. When the chicks began to leave the nest, Richard and I opted to move closer to our workplace. This time practicalities were thrown to the winds and we decided to look for the house we had always dreamt of: old, charming and with a thatch roof. An ad in the Real Estate column in the local paper led us to Thatchwick (already named). It was simple to find - we had passed the high, curved walls of the property time and again on our way to work. But Thatchwick is hidden from view by the walls and the enormous, old trees that fill the lush garden. Opening the gate, running up the path, Richard and I both knew the lovely old house with its soft grey thatch roof, long, cool pillared veranda, its round rooms and wooden sash windows was our forever home. The house was empty, neglected; the negotitions with a seller who was overseas were nerve-racking. Everyday on my way to work, I stopped the car at the gate and prayed silently that the house would become ours. At last, it did.

Sadly I don't know too much about its history. I keep meaning to do the research and then life comes in between. I estimate the house dates back to the 1930's. It originally consisted of four round rooms (rondavels), a kitchen and a central room (now my study) constructed in typical African style each with its own individual thatch roof. A later owner raised the walls and constructed a single thatch roof over the original rooms. I surmise he put a roof over the back veranda to build the sitting room and added the sun room later. The round walls of the bedrooms and dining room create a warm, intimate atmosphere and to eat, sleep and move under the canopy of sweet smelling thatch grass is unique.

2 What would I consider my greatest achievement?
Mmm, an honest and rather pretentious answer is obtaining my Doctor of Education. I was a 'old' student who only returned to studies when I was 34 years old - a mom, wife and full time teacher. I completed three postgraduate degrees in five years while I sewed ballet costumes, organised birthday parties, made sarmies for school breaks and taught full time. So the day I walked across the stage in Unisa's great hall in my crimson gown to be capped was a mighty proud one.

3 Apart from your loved ones, what is your most treasured possession? My photo albums. The rest of my possessions are replaceable; the memories captured on film, not.

4 Which historical figure would you most like to have dinner with and why? The Bard and I shall implore Will to recite Sonnet 116: "Let me not to the marriage of true minds..."

5 Before blogging what, if any,was your main mode of personal expression? Scribbling scraps of inspiration in a black book...writing for academic journals...embroidery and talks for various audiences....and talking!

Now if any of you, dear and interesting friends, would like to be interviewed this time by me, here are the instructions.

Leave me a comment saying interview me.
I will respond by emailing you five questions of my own.
You will include the explanation, post your interview and offer to interview someone else in the same post.

Any volunteers?