Green Leather, Red Wine … and Tea

By Susan Roberts

Some years ago in Hilton, I overheard a woman complaining about the year-round dampness in the KZN Midlands, and what it did to the contents of her wardrobe.

“It doesn’t matter what colour your leather shoes are when you put them into the cupboard,” she said. “They’re always green when you take them out.”

I have a cupboard like that too, except that I don’t live in Hilton. I live in Durban, where the damp is not caused by the rain and mist, but by the perpetual, melting humidity.

In the corner of my bedroom stands a traditional piece of Afrikaner cottage furniture– a Jonkmanskas, I think it’s called. Chest high and hand-made from Oregon pine, it has two ill-fitting drawers at the top and slanted tongue-and-groove inserts on the rickety doors below. I bought it in Johannesburg about thirty years ago, and it’s been a jolly useful piece of furniture in many homes I have lived in around the country, no matter which room it lands up in.

Until I settled in Durban, that is. When I moved into my cottage, the only place the cupboard fitted was the bedroom, but I couldn’t use it for clothing, especially not anything made of leather. Chameleon-like, my belts, shoes and handbags all changed by degrees into various shades of green as they adapted to their damp surroundings. No, the clothing had to find a home in another room. It seemed the ultimate irony to have a whole cupboard standing empty in a tiny bedroom in a cramped cottage. Until the solution hit me: what a perfect place to store wine! It’s like a miniature cellar: cool, damp, dark, and spacious.

A decade or so ago I started collecting red wine. Nothing too fancy; just a few choice bottles gathered during the year. These were squirreled away for my annual birthday dinner but, generous guests being what they are, many brought wine with them and some of my bottles lay resting for a few years longer than was good for their contents. Add to this the fact that my wine-rack resided on top of a cupboard in my hot kitchen and … Well, you can see where this is going. Hot air rises, remember? So every birthday dinner I’d have to open two or three bottles of vinegar before a palatable wine was unearthed. I am pleased to report that since the migration of my wine collection to the mini-cellar in the bedroom, it’s been a while since I had one of those parties.

I could make jokes here about sleepwalking to the cellar and back in the middle of the night – except that in my house it would be more like astro-travelling since my bedroom is so small that I don’t even need to leave my bed when I need something to drink ….

Whoa, stop right there! I can just imagine readers thinking, “Uh-oh, typical writer – bottle in one hand, pen in the other.”

Actually, the truth is sadder than that. I have a kettle on the other side of my bed. I believe that morning tea should be served to one in bed, and since there’s no-one to do that for me (years of trying to train my cats and slumbering boyfriends have proved fruitless), the only solution is to have my tea-making apparatus next to the bed, and make it

So how does this relate to the wine? It doesn’t. Once again I have managed to write a completely frivolous, meaningless blog about nothing. You’ve read through all that and I’m not even a wine expert. Actually, I’m a peasant when it comes to wine. I know nothing about it beyond my tiny collection, but I refuse to let wine connoisseurs make me feel stupid. I mean, does anyone raise an eyebrow if a drinker of tea has no idea how his tannin-and-caffeine tipple came to be in his hand? No. All that matters is that he likes the taste of it. And so it should be with wine.

Green leather, red wine, and tea. So where did all the leather go? Well, that’s another story …



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