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Lady Madonna, children at your feet, Wonder how you manage to make ends meet. (Lennon-McCartney 1968) .

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Memories are funny things. Not really like photographs, or files on our hard-drive, memories are much more malleable. Each time we retrieve them and metaphorically turn them over in our hands, they are somehow changed, altered, edited. We regard our memories through the veil of our own experience.

This is my memory, now, from when I was (about) 12 years old, in 1973.

During my childhood and teenage years, my brother, sister, and parents often stayed with my grandparents, in their large, sprawling house in the Sussex countryside. I remember the house as comfortable (in a not-at-all-smart way), with large gardens where we could build dens, help mow lawns and dig vegetables, and big, creaky bedrooms with chimneys that whistled eerily when the wind blew. Our visits there were governed by an unchanging routine that began with early morning egg-collecting and the letting-out of chickens and geese, and ended with the recouping of the same to keep them safe from prowling foxes and other night hazards. In between, mealtimes were regular and frequent, to service the needs of the “paying guests”- a fluctuating population of working people and visitors to the area whose lodgings, along with sales of surplus garden produce, provided my grandmother with her income.

On this particular occasion, we were not to be the only family visiting. My uncle, who my grandparents had adopted as a baby, would also be staying. I was intrigued. I had heard about my uncle, but never met him. He had a reputation for being unconventional; (although my grandparents might have used a less neutral term). He was some 13 years’ younger than my father, so that made him a relatively youthful 29. He was relatively well-travelled (for 1973), and now, he was going to live in New Zealand with his wife and baby daughter. In my typical 12-year old way, I soaked up the atmosphere and nuance.  I learned that he had adopted what would later become known as an “alternative lifestyle” and I sensed a certain apprehension and disapproval amongst the adults in my family. One thing was obvious to me: the fatted calf had nothing to fear!

Adults tend to think that children don’t notice things and so children tend to become skilled in covert observation. I was adept at sitting quietly in a corner buried in a book, seemingly oblivious to everything. In fact, the longer the atmosphere of discomfort prevailed, the more excited I became and the more my anticipation grew.

At last a battered van (of the Camper variety) pulled into the drive and up to the house and my uncle, his wife and baby daughter emerged into our grey, drizzly afternoon like extraordinary exotic butterflies landing on a cabbage. These were real, live hippies! Such as I had only seen under perjorative headlines in the Daily Express.

I have a memory of my uncle, a slight man with long hair, wearing a band around his head and a purple t-shirt that laced-up at the front. His wife struck me as beautiful and willowy, with long chestnut hair and a long tie-dyed dress that brushed her sandaled feet. She carried what seemed to me to be a very small baby wrapped in a cotton shawl. If it’s possible to feel hopelessly frumpy at twelve year’s old, I did on that afternoon.

My grandmother’s proffered hospitality was politely declined, on the basis that “everything we need is in the van” and “the van” (which in my memory is a mustardy yellow colour) took on Tardis-like qualities in my imagination. And so, that night, when we went upstairs to bed, the little family disappeared back into the van.

I seem to think they left the next day. But not before I had seen the beautiful woman in her long kaftan, sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen, feeding her tiny baby. I suppose it was the first time I had been exposed to breastfeeding that wasn’t entirely private and functional.  I remember being captivated by how graceful and relaxed she seemed, and feeling embarrassed when she saw me watching her, and smiled at me.

Tomorrow we leave Sydney and fly to New Zealand (via Brisbane). Sadly, the beautiful Lady Madonna with the quiet smile, died some years ago. But my uncle, three of his children, and many grandchildren live in and around Christchurch. A twelve-year-old, well-behaved girl, with tidy clothes and sensible shoes is very excited to meet them.

Now, briefly, a Plug!

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We spent a wonderful four days in Cape Town and nearby Franschhoek and benefitted greatly from some local knowledge, courtesy of Mr. F’s friend and ex-colleague, Colin Dilland, who runs East Cape Tours (eastcapetours.com). Hailing from Wolverhampton in the Midlands, Colin has lived and worked in South Africa since 1995 and has built up a thriving business, organizing travel, tours and holidays in the Eastern Cape. He recommended and booked our accommodation and met us for a catch up over dinner. Thanks, Colin!

Fabulous Food at Foliage. In Franschhoek.

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(2 October 2017)

Back in May of this year, we went to a lovely wedding in the Lake District (UK). We stayed in a Pub B&B and ate there on the Friday night. At a table next to us were a couple who, it emerged, were well-travelled and enthusiastic foodies. When we told them of our plans to visit Cape Town, and nearby Franschhoek, they were keen to recommend a particular restaurant where, they said, they had eaten one of their best ever meals.

Thus we find ourselves seated at a table in “Foliage”. I booked online several months ago and let them know that Mr. F and I would be celebrating our Wedding Anniversary, so I am giddy with excitement to find that we have been given the table next to the open kitchen, with a bottle of Champagne already on ice!

Menus at Foliage are derived each day from the best available local produce and the daily foraging expeditions into the nearby hills and mountains. Wild herbs, mushrooms, and flowers form an integral part of the dishes, which arrive at the table on rustic, artisanal platters. Outside the restaurant, looking like a small scale replica of Stephenson’s Rocket, stands a smoker. My beef brisket main course had spent some time in there, and emerged with a distinct smokey, salty, slightly caramelised flavour, and a texture that fell apart under gentle pressure from a fork. Presentation is beautiful – literally as pretty as a picture.

Mr. F’s fish main was marked as excellent. He loved the complimentary tastes and colours and our desserts were as delectable as they were indulgent .

Observing the kitchen at work is a rare treat. If you’re expecting flaming histrionics and culinary hissy-fits, you’ll be disappointed. This team work together as a mutually respectful, well-oiled machine, efficiently bringing together different components into one whole. The food is continually tasted, seasoned and tasted again and, when chef is satisfied with the finished dish, its arrival into the world is announced not by a jarring “SERVICE!”, but by a barely audible tap on a small bell. Waiters are knowledgeable, friendly and enthusiastic and very much part of a “one team” ethos.

A great meal is always about more than the food. For example there is now a growing acceptance that the life lived by the animal infuses the meat on our plate. Hence the interest in outdoor-reared, organically-fed animals. I believe that how the food is prepared, and the atmosphere in which it is created, also transfers. This is not so different to the idea of “soul” food – food from the soul, for the soul. What arrived on my plate at Foliage wasn’t only food that had been carefully-sourced, skillfully-prepared and meticulously-presented; it was food that came from a place of heartfelt enthusiasm, unpretentious respect and expertise worn-lightly. And I swear I could taste that, too!

Happy Anniversary, Mr. F. X

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Everywhere and Nowhere, Baby. That’s Where You’re At”. (Jeff Beck).

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Going into an airport always feels a bit to me like falling down the rabbit hole. Time and scale are suspended. Here there is no day and night, just climate-controlled, artificially-lit, ever-lasting airport-time. The gift shops pedalling miniature black London taxis and teddy bears in beefeater costume are the only indicators of place, amongst the homogenous designer brands and eateries. At International Departures I am “everywhere and nowhere, Baby”.

Heathrow Airport, processed 75 million people via its five terminals last year. (Thank you, Mr. F and Google). That statistic amazes me, as does (every time) the experience of standing in the terminal amongst the throng. Here I get a real sense of this transient mass. A shifting flotsam and jetsam that drifts between the continents and all these people, with their unique and individual stories, have their particular reasons for being there at this very moment.

I find myself wondering about the three women (of about my age) who met up in the restaurant, at the table adjoining ours. Their excitement was palpable, and had an air of the clandestine, as if they had escaped the demands of work and family to spend some “me time” together – and it felt like playing hooky.

The lovers, jetting off into the big blue yonder of their still-new relationship, with eyes only for each other. And the small, sleepy child, who invokes in me Trunki-envy; a suitcase you can ride on is now something I so need!

It is 0700 and we are nearing the end of this our first flight of 11 hours. The sun is coming up and we are about 3 hours out of Cape Town. I like long haul – the experience of being confined to a lumpy armchair, plied with drinks and food from dubious sources and of no nutritional value, whilst watching hours of films and telly is a latent fulfilment of my teenage fantasy, and a couple of herbal Sleepeaze tablets have delivered a surprising amount of floppy-headed dozing. Time for some early morning Poldark, methinks.

 

 

 

 

 

Setting the Bar High

If I’m to believe my Lonely Planet guides and my internet research (not to mention the many recommendations from friends and people I don’t even really know), our travels will deliver all sorts of spectacular sights and sounds. There will be vistas of magnificence and experiences which will be lent a special magic, because of their ‘difference’ to our ‘normal’. So my regular walk in the Park today was a timely reminder (if one were needed) of how wonderful the ‘normal’ is.

The late afternoon sun had that early Autumn mellowness and the majestic chestnut trees bore their bright green prickly trophies aloft, as if they know that they will soon be snatched by the Winter frosts. Underneath them, this year’s young deer herd – little, doe-eyed Bambi’s that make a chirruping sound as they graze the still-lush grass. I love the late afternoon at this time of the year in England. The air begins to chill and turn a little damp and, as the sun fades, like a spritz from a giant atomizer, it releases all those earthy, woody, Autumnal aromas.

By the time we return the leaves will have mostly gone, and those few that cling defiantly to the trees will be dry and brown. The chestnuts will have fallen, to be squirreled away for the Winter and the deer will be bigger and less obviously “Disney”. And I will have seen such things!

As I put the dogs back into the car I stop and take another look. How lucky am I that this is my ‘everyday’? It sets the bar pretty high.

Statistics, Logistics … and Lists.

With 13 (!!!) Days to go, these are the statistics:

30 days

Four continents

Five time-zones

Two seasons

Eight flights

Three hire cars

Three train journeys

Two suitcases

20 kilos of luggage (each)

The logistics: flight times, boarding, cards, hotel and Air B&B bookings, car hire, train tickets etc. These are the domain of the indefatigable Mr. F. who, as I write, is updating his spreadsheets and checking exchange rates.

The lists: A list of what we have to do before we leave. A list of what I need to pack. A list of instructions for dog-carers and cat-sitters. These are my particular speciality.

The list of “what I need to pack” is beginning to look like it may exceed 20kgs. Some pruning may be required. However, come what may, the 35 pairs of M&S “Basic Briefs” will definitely make the final cut. A girl has to have her priorities straight!