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.

97px-Christmassteps

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.

IMG_5343

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…

Ostrich-head-in-sand

Explore the Overberg

by Jacqueline Dowling

Leaving Cape Town’s rush hour traffic, cresting Sir Lowry’s Pass, we drove through a moonscape of flattened fynbos, granitic rocks, felled conifers and scrubby grassland.   Suddenly, a whole vista of trees and  orchards  brilliant with roses opened up before us.  The Elgin Valley, Appletiser country, where the hills are literally alive with fruit trees as far as the eye can see, and where The Overberg begins.   Spring in this area is bloom time:  the trees covered in  white and pink froth of blossom, vineyards in early buttery leaf and roses everywhere, climbing along fences in a riot of colour,  grown to give early warning of soil deficiencies or insect infestation. Late snow ices the surrounding peaks . Simply put –  it’s stunning.

Image result for sir lowry's pass south africa

There are three popular farmstalls between  Sir Lowry’s and Houwhoek: Orchard which has a restaurant, art gallery , bakery and small winery: Peregrine, a bit further on boasts a fine bakery , restaurant and selection of wines, farmstall products and the local info desk.   Carry on along the N2 to Houwhoek where farmstall and the oldest hotel in the country, Houwhoek Inn, nestle in a green valley surrounded by old and shady oaks.  The inn, built originally in 1779 on a tollgate in the days of the Dutch East India Company, is a good stopover for lunch under the trees in summer.  A quaint collection of whitewashed buildings comprise the body of the inn which overlooks a two hundred year old gum tree growing outside the pub and acres of grassland rising up through forests to high mountain peaks, .  Situated in the Kogelberg Biosphere,  a world heritage area of outstanding beauty, Houwhoek is said to have taken its name from the early wagon drivers who, having crossed the mountains and begun the steep descent to the then Houwhoek village, would shout ‘Houw’ which meant put the brakes on or we’ll all go over the edge

Image result for houwhoek pass south africa

Over Houwhoek Pass and you’re almost in the centre of The Overberg, where there are picturesque, historic and peaceful places to explore, not far away.   The name Overberg means Over The Mountains, Over Het Geberghte in Dutch the language in which they were originally named.   It stretches from Elgin/Grabouw to the Breede River at Cape Infanta: the northern boundary formed by the Riviersonderend and Langeberg mountains, with the villages of Genadendal and Greyton slumbering in the foothills. Rolling wheatfields silver-green in the sunlight rush across hills and along valleys, chased by shadows and the 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 in 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, according to legend,  were imported from Spain two hundred years ago.   They thrived and the news got back to Spain which ordered that ‘the original stock ‘ be returned forthwith.    This is sheep country, one of the most densely stocked in South Africa and the cradle of the wool industry.  The Cape Agulhas Light was once fuelled by oil from local fat tailed sheep.

Between Bot Rivier and Caledon you’ll find a quaint farm stall and restaurant – Dassiesfontein.  Famous for its traditional Boerekos, bread made with stone ground flour and baked in wood ovens,  vintage kitchenware, a selection of Welcome Dover stoves, Africana collectibles . . . the list is long . We stopped there on a cold day in early Spring:   a tantalising aroma of wood smoke and coffee in the air.  Inside, a fire burned in a wheelbarrow, coffee came in a big old enamel coffee pot accompanied by two enamel mugs, handles thoughtfully cloth bound, and a basket of hot new bread.  A browse through the various ’boutiques’ had me making lists of things to buy on the way back.   Shelves groaning with local Overberg produce added yet more items to the list and a determination to return.

Image result for dassiesfontein farm stall south africa

The  R406 turnoff to Genadendal and Greyton is on the left, shortly after Dassiesfontein.   Genadendal (Valley of Grace) ,  the oldest Moravian Mission on the continent, was founded around 1738 and is run as a community project.   It’s a wonderful place to visit: the square, surrounded by old ochre and yellow Bavarian style houses, boasts no fewer than twenty five national monuments and a beautiful, dignified Moravian church: the pipe organ the oldest in South Africa.   On Sundays the square is filled with every conceivable form of wheeled transport including donkey carts and horse drawn buggies.  The animals wander the lanes undisturbed during service, and on certain Sundays a brass band plays under the oaks.

The Genadendal museum has been declared a National Cultural Treasure.   Here you’ll find the first fire engine in the country, a fine collection of musical instruments, early  Cape and hand-made goods and furniture.   The Old Print Shop contains one of the earliest mission printing presses in South Africa and the water mill has been restored to working order.   Flour is stone ground, baked in open air ovens and sold.   The Genadendal weavers’ work is rapidly finding a secure place in its genre throughout the country, and abroad.

Image result for genadendal museum south africa

Return to the R406 and turn left to Greyton.  Named for Sir George Grey, the village is the last in the valley and straight out of a book of English water colours.    Thatched houses in colourful gardens, oaks and canals line streets where ducks and donkeys are a common sight.  A Saturday market is held on the village green and the annual Rose Festival happens in October .  Many artists and crafters have made their homes here – it’s a great place for treasure and craft hunters.   Not only is Greyton a desirable week-end getaway,  it is also a centre for mountain biking and hiking.

This is just a small taste of The Overberg – there is so much more.

Image result for greyton south africa mountain biking

Timing in the countryside of the mind

by Penny M

I set my alarm for 8.15 a.m. before I went to bed last night – after all, my appointment the nextWhat happens if you wait too long day was for 10 a.m. (plenty of time).

Never mind that I had to bath, dress, put on makeup, have breakfast and meds, strip the sheets off the beds (Mondays are washing and cleaning days), pack my handbag with prerequisites for my appointment, and walk up a 45 degree hill to catch the bus.

It was 8.33 a.m.; I was just getting into the bath when it dawned on me I would have to catch the 9 o’clock bus to reach my destination, Boots in Taunton, by 10 a.m.

I dipped in the bath, put moisturiser on my face, a stroke of mascara and discarded the rest of my non-medical routine. Breakfast of porridge, almonds, sunflower seeds and yoghurt became a packet of cheesy oat biscuits for the bus.

It was raining, so on went the boots and raincoat; back upstairs for scarf and gloves.

“Bye, Mum.”

Out the door and up Golden Hill which became an Everest of puffing prayer.  My heart struggled to catch up with the shock.

Countryside living tends to books, screens, social media, and the odd walk.  Popping out for something (without wheels) involves a bit of a time plan.   I miss my car; I could plot my course of action so incredibly well when I had my four-wheeled friend.  I had appointments down to a fine art, knew the quickest routes to avoid rush hours, school turnouts and month ends.

I’ve realised why I don’t walk as much as I should, even in this country where I can safely wander. It’s because I must have a measurable purpose with exercise and fresh air as by-products. Wandering along aimlessly with nobody to talk to except of course my invisible friend just doesn’t do it for me.  But a walk up the road to the village to actually buy something, post a letter, catch the bus – now that’s different.

But I digress.  Buses are amazing spaces for blog writing and provide lots of time for thinking and breathing. If you are reading this then you will know that I made it, but with new resolve to add an extra hour to my alarm clock – the one I always thought was there. There must be a market for 26 hour alarm clocks – now there’s a product for the Dragon’s Den.

How did I make it?  I put it down to the accuser who sat on the shoulder of my common sense and whipped me to succeed or die of shame.  I think my heart has forgiven me and returned the extra seconds I thought I might have lost in the rush.

I love the English countryside and know I need to walk more, so would somebody please lend me a dog?

Getting to Know You, Australia

By Susan Roberts

It’s funny how, once the first few cogs click into place, the wheels begin to turn smoothly, in the way that you always knew they were meant to turn. I’m not a cyclist, but from what I understand, that moment when you switch into the correct gear is the moment your wheels find proper traction, and you move along a lot faster. Finally, my cogs have connected, my wheels have found their tracks and are turning smoothly, and my life is starting to gather pace.

At the end of next month it will be two years since I touched down in Australia to start living my new life here. After the frenzied packing and goodbyes of the preceding months, all was calm for a few weeks. I was relieved to no longer be the centre of my crazy world, but happy to be an orbiting moon on the outer periphery of an altogether different universe. I was content to let life happen around me as I slowly got my bearings and settled into an alternate existence.

As the bewilderment slowly eased off, this foreign life became more familiar to me, but there was always one thing missing. As much as I loved the idea of living a writer’s life, my funds weren’t going to support it forever. Despite being granted permission to work a year later, I was unable to get a job. An ordinary job, nothing special. Just something to enable me to earn my own living, and to move into a rented place of my own so that I could get back to the “normal” life that I knew and missed.

Who knew it could take so long to find something like that?

The humanitarian organisation I started volunteering for on my birthday last year proved to be a gift in itself. For the first time since getting here, I started to make new friends outside of the family circle. I experienced for the first time what it was like to be part of an Australian organisation; a work-force despite there being no salary to go with it. By the time we had our volunteers Christmas lunch, I knew that I was part of something that mattered, something special. I longed to work for them full-time, but if that couldn’t happen, it was a place I knew I would always enjoy spending my free time in.

I’ve been applying for some of the paid jobs within that organisation ever since, of course, and with increasing desperation as my own paltry funds dwindled away.

Suddenly, in the last month, several things have coincided and I am now working part-time at two jobs. I’m still not completely out of the woods financially, but doing these two jobs are the steadiest things I’ve been able to do in almost two years, and I intend to hang onto both of them for as long as possible. I’ll continue with the volunteer work too, because I love doing it.

The really great thing about no longer pounding the virtual pavements in search of a job, is that I now have more time to dream, to build my little castles in the air. My little, windswept, outback shacks of castles that are not very high in the air at all. My dreams have changed over the years, but suddenly I have new fodder to inspire them.

For example, the internet articles I write are all about places in Australia, and at least half of them are places that I might otherwise never have heard of. I do a lot of research – online, in books, and personally if I can get there. Learning about new places opens my eyes and inspires me even more.

I’m getting to know Australia at last, up close and personal. Two or three days a week I sell fruit, vegetables and meat to Australians. Two other days a week I help to sell clothing, books, furniture and bric-a-brac to other Australians, in aid of funds to help those less fortunate than the rest of us. I spend the remaining days of each week researching towns all over Australia to see what news I can find to interest Australians online. Some of these people have lived here all their lives, while others have only just arrived, like me, but we’re all part of the same country now. Just different cogs on the same set of wheels.

I can’t wait to see where these tracks lead me next…

IMG_5353