The Comforts of Tea in Bed

By Susan Roberts

I never used to be much of a tea drinker. My mother would often make tea when I was a child, but I don’t remember experiencing any particular joy from drinking it. It wasn’t until I was at University and the third year drama students were given a common room with a kettle, that I began to drink tea with any relish. Suddenly it was a privilege and a treat.

Fast forward another year, to my first job in Johannesburg. I started drinking my tea weak and black, because I could make a single tea bag last two (or more) cups, and I didn’t need to buy milk. On my paltry salary, I had to take all the help I could get!

As time went on, I discovered the pleasures of loose tea leaves enclosed into a stainless steel tea-ball on a chain. Tea became a pleasure, and the ritual of making it was an equally pleasurable preamble to the actual drinking thereof.

On holidays back home visiting my parents, I discovered another new ritual. My mother would always make tea early in the morning, and because my father never drank tea, she would check to see if I was awake, and bring me a cup. This started one of the most enduring love affairs of my life – my love of early morning tea. Waking up to a fresh mug of steaming tea next to my bed was something that surely only Heaven (and my mother) could supply.

Returning to Johannesburg and leaving my parents was always a sad wrench away from normality, back to my unreal world of hard work and crazy hours for poor pay. After ten years of struggling financially, I took a job in a far away casino resort.

The money was great but the job was a constant battle against the massive egos around me. Not all of the old-fashioned chauvinism was bad; some of it was kind and genuinely concerned. Puzzled male colleagues asked me why I was there. They wanted to know who my father was, or my husband, because in their eyes that was the only reason a woman would be there, and some of them had seen wives and daughters go a little stir-crazy in that bizarre environment.

For me, the worst part was the lack of phone lines and the inability to call my mother. At the age of thirty, I missed her far more than I had in my eager early twenties. My father had died five years before and I still worried about her being on her own, so not being able to contact her when I wanted to was not easy to deal with.

However, my new salary enabled me to level my debts and build some capital, so for a limited time it suited me. I indulged in a few comforts which reminded me of home. One of these was that magical British invention called a Swan Teasmade.

I bought a machine that was a radio, alarm clock and tea kettle all in one. At the appointed time, the alarm would go off, the radio would play softly and the internal kettle – filled the night before – would boil and pour boiling water into the tea in the ceramic teapot. The sound of that gurgling rush of water from the kettle pipe into the teapot was my real alarm clock. Like Pavlov’s dog my mouth would water as I waited the three minutes it took to draw a strong brew that would give me two cups of Twinings best.

My Teasmade lasted about ten years before it eventually died from overwork. I scoured shops far and wide until I found another one. That too lasted about ten years until I wore it out and then – disaster – I couldn’t find another Teasmade! Undaunted, I bought a second kettle and kept it on the bedside table.

I still had both ceramic teapots from my two Teasmades, and these alternated for pride of place next to my bed, supplying me with my standard two cups of tea every morning. Generations of kettles have come and gone since then, but those two teapots were both carefully packed into a box in my Move Cube two years ago when I moved to Australia.
I don’t currently have a kettle next to my bed, and sadly Teasmades seem to be rare vintage relics, hard to find in Australia. I have to get up and go to the kitchen to make my morning tea, which is probably a good thing. It forces me to stay awake on the cold mornings we have in Melbourne.

I always take my tea back to bed with me and set up my laptop for a writing session that can last me through several cups. It all works out fine for now, but one day when I am once more in a place of my own and have a bit more space, I will unpack both those ceramic teapots, buy a second kettle and treat myself to my mother’s morning treat – tea arriving next to me while I’m still in bed.

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A Feast of Farm stalls

By Jac Dowling

Cresting Sir Lowry’s Pass with its breathtaking view of False Bay, and never ending traffic, the moonscape of flattened fynbos, granitic rocks and scrubby grassland comes as something of a surprise. Suddenly a whole vista of trees and orchards, brilliant with roses, opens up: the Elgin Valley, Appletiser country, where the hills are alive with fruit trees as far as the eye can see, and where The Overberg begins. Spring in this area is blossom time; trees covered in a froth of white and pink. Vineyards in early buttery leaf and roses everywhere, climbing along fences in a riot of colour while late snow ices surrounding peaks. Simply put – it’s stunning.

Three popular farmstalls, well known to locals and regular users of the N2, are situated between Sir Lowry’s and Houwhoek. First up – Orchard farm stall, restaurant and coffee shop where climbing roses and vines offer shade on hot days to thirsty travellers. A car and bike wash is on hand, clean restrooms and a safe playground for children to let off steam. The bakery and deli offer fresh farm breads, local honey, homemade jams and preserves as well as local teas. Locally produced wines are on sale, some at cellar prices, which complement their farm-style pies and old fashioned apple tart. Local artworks are on display in the Orchard Gallery. From time to time Wildekranz holds wine tastings on the premises.

Recently partly rebuilt after a tragic fire in 2014, Peregrine Farm stall has become an icon of what can develop from a humble roadside fruit stall in 1964. Their new restaurant, open to the original deli, echoes apple barns of the past with blonde Austrian spruce beams, screed floors and a great contemporary light atmosphere. Quite a change from the old structure built in the 1980s. But the quality of fare has not changed; their game pies are legend, stone ground unbleached flour used for baking and artisanal bread baked in a wood-fired oven.

For those who need to exercise young children, the collection of old tractors and playground offer an alternative to the restaurant. There’s an al fresco take-away and coffee shop, Peregrine Pop-up for knicknacks and a wide selection of top local wines, ciders, craft beers and preserves from the original farmstall shop.

Houwhoek Farm stall nestles in a green valley opposite the historic Houwhoek Inn and a good choice for a shady stopover on a hot day. The white farmhouse-style ‘padstal’, renowned for its baking , especially the chicken pies, has a pleasant restaurant and farm shop which stocks fruit and veg from the Elgin Valley farms, local wines all at cellar prices and all manner of jams and preserves. In summer creamy apricot Crepiscule roses clamber over the trellised verandah where the view across acres of wood and grassland to high mountain peaks succeeds in blocking out the rush of passing traffic. Autumn mornings break leisurely through early mist hanging in late ambered oak; while three trout dams are stocked with rainbow trout and open for fly fishing from June each year. Rods may be hired from the shop and picnic baskets ordered in advance to make for a pleasant, relaxed day in The Overberg.

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Over Houwhoek Pass is almost the centre of The Overberg where there are picturesque, historic and peaceful places to explore, not far away. Rolling wheatfields, silver-green in sunlight, rush across hills and along valleys, chased bt shadows and a gentle prevailing wind. Geese follow ploughed swirls across an Impressionist’s palette of colour. A panorama of valleys, mountains and rivers where blue cranes and guinea fowl peck the furrows. Springtime brings brilliant daisies, fields of yellow canola, purple lupins and lush grass where Merino sheep graze, peering through thick creamy fleeces. The original stock, legend has it, came from Spain two hundred years ago. They thrived; the news reached Spain which ordered that the ‘original stock’ be returned forthwith…This is sheep country, farmstall country, the cradle of the wool industry and surely its Fields of Gold one of the most treasured parts of our country.

A wee conundrum …

By Sue Trollip

I am not flaky. Yet security questions to ensure the safety of my online accounts drive me batty.

friend clip art. Friends Clipart #216828 byFor example: type in the name of your childhood friend. While I don’t want to be melodramatic, my childhood meandered through nursery school (kindergarten), junior school and on to high school, arguably it lasted longer, but let’s stop here anyway. So which besties name do you want?

What is my favourite book/author? That, my friends, is downright laughable. There’s a top ten list, but even that is fluid.

What is the worst movie you’ve ever seen? Worst for it’s blood and gore content? Worst for it’s idiocy? I need you to be more specific. Off the top of my head I’d say “Perfume”, but I only stayed for the first five minutes. Would that count? Or the one I saw at the Durban Film Festival. A British movie. Oooh that one I LOVE MOVIES!!!!!!!!!!!!was awful, but I can’t remember it’s name. I don’t think it made it onto the circuit. What am I supposed to do here? What if I see another awful movie this weekend? Will I remember which one I put down next time I have to remember this security question? Hell no! By this point, in the long list of questions, I’m thinking of movies and not whatever website I’m trying to sign onto.

I had a little rant at the office on Friday because we were logging onto a new website and had seven security questions to answer. Seven, really? More than half of them were opinion. Facts people, I can remember facts. What is my mother’s maiden name? What is my father’s second name?

So I conducted a wee google search (not on company time) and discovered the next problem. Facts can be hacked by hackers far easier than opinions. Then I found a website telling me how hackers got into yahoo and found out the answers to all our security questions along with phone numbers and our emails. It’s not worth thinking too hard about otherwise we’d never do another thing online. Where’s the fun in that?

But I found out the answer to the security conundrum. Lie.

In her article Time to Kill Security Questions – or Answer them with Lies Lily Hay Newman says lying may be the correct answer.

In an age of frequent data breaches, your mother’s maiden name should probably be 4tz9Ru#p and your childhood best friend b2p^fqw.

Family Heirlooms

By Susan Roberts

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the things we inherit. As some of you know, most of my novels are constructed around something inherited by one of the characters. This can be an actual object: a ceremonial knife, a notebook filled with cryptic diagrams, or a box of faded photos and old letters. It can even be, as in the case of my current Work In Progress, an estranged stepdaughter and an old house filled with bad memories and even older secrets.

I must admit, my own life is not quite this exciting, but I do have some things that I have inherited from my family. (That is, apart from a love of stories, a fascination with books and local history, and a warped idea of how exciting it might be to uproot and move to another country in my middle years. This last tendency had skipped two generations, possibly because my parents and their immediate forebears had too much other “excitement” during the war years.)

Two years ago I uprooted and came here to Australia, following my sister who did the same four years before me. On my first visit to Australia, I was delighted to walk around her house and be able to see and touch things from our childhood, and from our parents’ lives, all safely ensconced in their new Australian home. Little bits of settler history transferred from one former British colony to another former British colony in the twenty-first century.

I didn’t bring my whole household with me – just a small Move Cube and two beloved cats. The cats have settled in well, but the contents of the Move Cube are still, for the most part, occupying space in my sister’s garage. I’m hoping that before too long I will be able to unpack and spread my things out in a home of my own.

What are these things? Sentimental things, mostly. Things that are unable to be replaced. Family heirlooms of the material type. While the inherited characteristics from my ancestors are with me daily, on my face, in my actions, in my general outlook on life, many of the more material objects are waiting to come out of their boxes.

One of my favourite family heirlooms is my dining table, hand carved by my grandfather between the end of the Great War and the birth of my father ten years later. My father grew up as the youngest child in his household, eating all meals at that table. A generation later, I too was the youngest child growing up eating meals around the same table with my big sister.

Throughout our childhood many activities were done around this table. As a family, we played board games, put together jigsaw puzzles, blew out birthday candles and wrapped Christmas presents. My sister and I watched our mother cut out and sew dresses on that table; we typed our first literary masterpieces on our mother’s portable, manual typewriter at that table; we painted with messy water colours on it – albeit with several sheets of newspaper between our artistic endeavours and the surface hand carved by our grandfather.

In more recent years, I set up my computer at that table, moving it only for the occasional dinner party. I have also written the bulk of my novels, short stories, plays and various competition entries at that table.

It thrills me to know that the table has come all the way to Australia to start a new life with me. I wish I knew more about its origins, where our grandfather carved it, what gave him the idea for the patterns on it, how long it took to complete it, and so on. Our grandfather died when I was very young, but I never thought to ask my father the history of the table. He must have known it, but probably never got around to telling us.
Somewhere in those boxes in the garage there is a photo of my father and his brother sitting at the table with their father and an aged great aunt, eating a meal. The table is simply being used for one of the daily functions of a table in those times, and my hope is that it will continue to be used for many more ordinary, daily functions in the years to come.IMG_0766

Rooted in Bristol

by Penny M

Since writing my previous blog, Timing in the Countryside of the mind, I have found a job in the city and am going back to my roots.  I was born in Bristol and returned to live and work there when I was twenty, before heading for the next few decades in ‘sunny’ South Africa.  Both parents grew up in Bristol and family memories and records are still there, waiting to be unearthed on a visit to the Bristol Museum where a great aunt stashed them years ago.  I have bleak, dank and drizzly flashbacks of a city without a heart.

Bristol 2017 is far from that.  I was there today for an appointment and met one of my cousins for lunch afterwards.  We walked down Christmas steps on route to a Moroccan restaurant, hidden in the depths of St Nicholas Markets.  The steps were built in 1669 and paid for by a wealthy wine merchant, Jonathon Blackwell[1], who was probably tired of the slippery muddy street that was there before.

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Passing the old buildings laced my senses with history.  Worn flagstones brimmed with shoppers and diners, exotic cuisines wafted wonder amongst ice cream and sweet shops with their ‘penny’ jars.  The Pieminister served up quirky, British humour with their scrumptious pudding-bowl pies with names like Kate and Sidney.  No prizes for guessing the ingredients.

Old rippled with new in a melee of glorious abandon.  We went in search of a place for dessert and found a cute coffee shop on the outskirts of a sun-bathed square.  A massive, open air screen was showing Wimbledon to a crowd of hatted fans who were parked off in deckchairs on a fake lawn slightly off-centre.  Ha ha – only in England.

Bristol has changed greatly and new buildings have transformed the city centre, but the vibe is way cooler.  There is so much to see and do, I can’t wait until I start living and working there again in a few weeks’ time.  Roll on August.

 

[1] Wikipedia

What Fruit and Veg Taught me about Selling Novels

By Susan Roberts

Many years ago I worked in a beautiful old building in Johannesburg that had been converted from a market to a very successful theatre. Some of us jokingly used to refer to it as the Fruit & Veg building. It’s strange how things change as life moves on, but it’s even stranger how some things circle back to you.

I now work in a genuine fruit and vegetable building, selling actual fruit and vegetables. It wasn’t something I ever envisaged doing, but I enjoy it.

Food is, of course, one of the essentials we all need for life. In addition to fruit and veg, our store sells meat – good quality, from local sources – and we sell a lot of it in bulk. Some customers in the shop buy huge quantities, and I know that for many of them, it’s because they run restaurants, help to support footy clubs or cook for charities.

We have a lot of special deals, and many customers see them advertised on our Facebook page, so they come in when there’s a special and buy a lot more than they otherwise might. I guess that many meat buyers have large freezers and will use it up over time.

There is a pensioner discount on weekdays, and many of our sweet older customers buy the cheaper fruit to put out for the birds. We also run a coffee bar and often those who come in for the coffee, cake, sandwiches and a cosy place to have lunch or tea, will then browse the shop afterwards and find tasty things to buy and take home.

As I enter my sixth week of gainful employment, I find that I’ve had a few thoughts about how my present situation relates to my writing. Although I sell food every time I go to work, writing is as essential for my existence as food is for most other people. I have to do it every day, and the more I write, the more I want to write.

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My aim in life is to keep writing novels for as long as I live. I’m diligent about writing them, but not very good at selling them. So in my new job, I’m trying to observe my boss and his selling habits in order to glean from him how one sells things successfully.

I think he runs a great business, and he does it well. His chief aim is to please the customer and give them friendly service with a smile, good deals and anything that makes them feel special. He is almost always in the store, chatting to customers, making them laugh, and joking with the regulars, most of whom he knows on first name terms. The atmosphere is friendly, busy and pleasant.

I have to say, though, I’m a little disappointed in some of the customers. I shouldn’t be, because they’re only exercising human nature, but it doesn’t bode well for my novel selling. Here’s why:

We all like a bargain, we all love getting a good deal, and we especially love getting something for free. However, when it becomes the norm to expect to always get a special deal, the greedier side of human nature rears its head. A special deal that is always special is not really special, is it? It should only happen from time to time. That’s why it’s called a special.

The careful shopper can browse all sorts of sites and take advantage of specials all over town, but the shopper who becomes abusive when the special that was on last week is no longer on this week? Well, that’s just ugly.

Yesterday a customer bought a bottle of pasta sauce along with her other things. When I rang up the bottle of sauce at the register, she complained that the price was expensive, and that last time she had bought it, a week or so back, it had been on special. I refrained from telling her the basic definition of special.

She asked if it wasn’t perhaps on a two-for-the-price-of-one special, so before she sent her husband back to get a second bottle, I scanned the bottle a second time to see if we had some kind of deal on it. We didn’t. When I voided that second scan, she asked me to void the first as well. She said she wasn’t prepared to pay so much for a bottle of pasta sauce.

That’s her right as a customer, of course. I smiled cheerfully as I voided it and put the bottle aside. I scanned the rest of her items, she paid for them and departed in a happy mood, but it got me wondering…

If we live our lives getting something at a bargain price, or for free, why do we begrudge paying the full price when the special is over? The sad part is, I think we’re all a bit like that, to be honest. I scan the web-pages of the pet stores every month, hoping to catch a special on the cat food and litter that I buy. If there’s no special, I pay the full price because I have to. Inside I’m a little disappointed, but I know there’ll be specials again in the future, and I’ll win another time.

How does this work with selling books?

I think that people who like free things or special deals are always going to look only for those, and why buy when there are hundreds of thousands of books available for free? Many people I know have downloaded scores of free books onto their Kindles and haven’t read them. If they already have more books on there than they can read in a lifetime, they are certainly not going to pay to buy mine.

I don’t rely on book sales for my income any more (fortunately!) so I think I’ll keep my books just as they are – for sale; not for free – and hope that serious readers will find them. Maybe I’m an ostrich, but at the moment my head feels lovely and warm, buried here in the sand…

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