Vino, vidi, vici


Before we start I must state that I know very little about the art of wine. For example, all I know about ‘terroir’ is that it is the French word for ‘earth’. I am an absolute beginner (yes, and a David Bowie fan) so my contributions at wine club are usually limited to “yum”, “double/triple yum” or “it’s OK”. But I am learning, and I love wine a lot, especially a good Chardonnay that spent much time in small oak barrels. The Rustenberg Five Soldiers, for example, has the same effect on me that black lacy suspenders and three-inch stilettos have on the average man. It is for this reason that I think I should start a wine club for people with a passion for wooded chard. Then I can print club T-shirts that read, “I like a lot of wood”. It is always so disappointing when wine merchants at festivals hesitate, slightly alarmed, even squirming a tad, when you ask them if their chard has been oaked. More often than not they respond with, “Very little.” And then they look you straight in the eye, trying to gauge whether you think six months in second-fill barrels is a little or a lot.

The delightful exception at this year’s Cellar Rats Spring Wine Festival at the Old Mill in Magaliesberg was the woman from Alvi’s Drift. She was a gushing champion for the AD chard, which tasted like the 11 months it spent in French oak and was just wonderful. She answered the question with “Lots!” but did not seem to know exactly how much. But she appeared to be bouncing with the pure joy of the thought, and, bouncing, leaned forward to find the wine in the brochure that was open on the table. She could not quite focus her fingers, so she just waved them across the page and said, “Kyk daarso, baie!” We looked and then we tasted, and without being moved in the slightest by the great number of awards bestowed on it, I made a positive note in my book. I was still busy with my first circle of the stands, so I was hoping to find lots more wood along the way. I found some.

The Christina van Loveren was of the lightly wooded variety, so I hurried by to stop at Freedom Hill. I had to wait a little for a couple that got there first. The very pretty blonde woman held our her tasting glass and asked for “semi-sweet white wine”. The vendor (I call them vendors, but often the winemaker or owner will personally attend the stand, sometimes you are advised by a merchant or wine master who may or may not be directly associated with the estate, sometimes family members pitch in, and sometimes you luck out with a student who tried to learn the specs before the show but failed) was only speechless for a second. “Eh… we don’t have that here. Try the Sauvignon Blanc over there,” he smiled, and pointed her away from his collection, trying to be helpful.

It was the first real indication that wine snobs were not the majority of attendees at the festival. Most of the folk who were there just loved the sunny weather out and a couple of glasses of wine before, after and in between meals. Like art, there were many who did not know much about the product, but knew what they liked. Some liked to clutch their beer with their thumb, index-, middle- and ring fingers, while holding the foot of their tasting glass against the bottom of the beer cup with their pinky. I suspect these were a “beer, with a Bordeaux blend chaser” crowd. They may have mistaken the small tasting samples as shots.

The great variety of wines, ciders and home-made brews certainly meant that there was something for everyone. Like, for the group of young enthusiasts who were told by an apparent veteran, “Bru, last year we were here until they started taking down the tents and we were drinking straight out of the bottle,” there appeared to be a lot.

For me, there was the Freedom Hill 2010 Chardonnay – thirteen months in 100% new French oak barrels. It really was delicious and pipped Alvi’s Drift at the post. It was not the overall winner. In the end, shortly before the tents came down and after a terrible row with my credit card, I had to give the blue ribbon to the Bartinney chard and take it home with me. But Freedom Hill signalled the end of the first round of tasting.

I have a few personal guidelines when it comes to wine festivals. I usually start with some bubbly, trying to find the ones I am not familiar with, and then stick to one cultivar, which means that I usually end up tasting Pinot Noir, mainly because the good ones are too expensive to buy, ever. This is a good strategy at Winex, where the Sandton Convention Centre draws the kind of crowd that will most probably order the Pinot by the case load, so the estates tend to dust off a couple of bottles from the single barrel of nectar they produced, and bring them along to taste. This was not so much the case at the Old Mill, so I had to abandon the cultivar approach and try to drink what was good. I decided to have a round of white, take a break, sit down, drink some water, listen to the old-toppie band (which shone with many years’ practice) and then do a round of red.

This meant that I tasted a number of wines I would normally only have at wine club, and there were some real gems: the Meinert Riesling, which was light and fruity and not too turpine (I think Riesling often smells like turpentine and tastes like petrol, but apparently that’s only the ones Rudi calls ‘good’); the Sutherland Viognier/Rousanne blend – unusual, new, and partially wooded; and possibly the best reds at the festival, from Idiom. I tasted the Cape Blend, which slipped down like silk, and the Zinfandel (Primitivo), which tempts one into fantasising that one may be able to afford to drink R190 bottles of wine if one, say, halved one’s consumption and then halved it again, and perhaps stopped drinking in September and March altogether. Or something. They were really very special.

I started my red round a little late, so the Meinert Synchronicity was finished by the time I got there, but I tasted the La Barry and the Merlot – the former smooth, uncomplicated and easy-drinking, the latter an impressive attempt with a grape that, some say, rarely does well on its own. The Meinert Merlot would get a double yum at wine club. And I had a great chat with Martin Meinert, who is affable and keen to engage any arbitrary passer-by in conversation about wine at a level they can actually understand. I was completely charmed, and did not feel like an idiot once. Something for everyone, as I said.

It was my first time at the festival, an annual institution at the Old Mill, and I was chuffed no end to have made it this year. It is an energetic and happy affair. Hundreds of people brought blankets, eezy shades, chairs, food, children and dogs and the carefree melange of these elements spread itself on the Highveld winter grass in the spirit of generous neighbourliness. We sat under a tree close to the band who played passionate, pitch-perfect covers of popular songs that were on average 20 years old. One could sing right along. There was no drunken uproar, there was no aggravation that I saw. It was a cool-but-sunny spring afternoon filled with music and a bunch of folk communing with Dionysus. It was very groovy. It was also nearly time to go.

In a last look around, I held out my tasting glass for the Tierhoek Chardonnay. It was wooded,and in spite of its meagre six months’ oak I had a little taste – I get sentimental towards home time at the end of a splendid party. It was surprisingly pleasing. I hesitated. I asked a second opinion – it is so rare to find a value-for-money chard that is also lovely to drink (the last one I discovered was the Cloverfield; at something like R42 a bottle it still has the best deliciousness-to-rand ratio of any wine for me, ever) that one has to be careful to keep one’s wits about one – sometimes the wine lies.

I read the Tierhoek label, and I think I fell a little bit in love. The farm is described as “one of the loneliest wineries in the Cape” a devilishly cunning phrase that touches your heart even before you go to the website and see the pictures of the simplicity and remoteness of this Sandveld estate, 760m high in the Piekenierskloof on the edge of the Cederberg. It is one of my favourite parts of the country, relentlessly rugged and beautiful. The thought of making wonderful wine in such a place is almost unbearable. It was clearly time to go home and recover. 

I was sober enough not to buy cases of the chard, something that will probably bother me for a couple of months, ceaselessly, when I will call the estate to find out where I can find a bottle in Joeys for a 2nd tasting. In my imaginary wine club for wooded-Chardonnay lovers, that would be the right thing to do.


Against the odds, shit happens

I don’t know what is wrong with me and the thousands of other Lions supporters. We remain loyal and hopeful against all odds. If you subscribe to Einstein’s postulation that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result, we must be mad. Not as mad, however, as the (even more) thousands of Stormers fans who would be bawling into their Ohlssons’ tonight if SAB had not discontinued the brand a long time ago. I always think of Western Provincers as Ohlssons drinkers – you now that joke of the similarity between Ohlssons and making love in a canoe? Etc.

Even though I cannot find it in myself to support the Stormers (almost) ever*, I made an exception this weekend, being a patriot. It’s the Lion in me – or at least I hope that’s it. Whatever. I was going with the odds of us (SA) winning the Super Rugby. Historically (apparently, according to darling) no team has ever travelled away for a final and won, with the exception of the time the Bulls nudged a victory over the Sharks in the shark tank in 2007. But let’s face it; they did not travel much further than they would reasonably do for a family holiday by the sea, so perhaps that does not count.

So the Sharks, having kicked ass down under against the Reds the week before while the Stormers did their roots and went for massages, were unlikely victors at Newlands on Saturday.  The Sharks (or “Sarks”, according to Ashwell Willemse in the Supersport studio) put the first points on the board and the Stormers never managed to catch up, not even in the second half when they appeared to have finally tied the laces to their boots. We might have to rename them the Centipedes.

In spite of myself, I was a little in shock. Ashwell calls the upcoming final in NZ the “Sarks’ Mission Impossible” and although we hope it turns out for them like it always turns out for Tom Cruise, we hope against the odds. Because as we know, Super Rugby is not Hollywood, where shit happening is de rigueur, but the odds are that things will turn out OK.

It occurred to me, at the end of the game, that my relationship with darling was more like Super Rugby than like Hollywood. Considering my track record, the odds were also in favour of shit happening, but like the S15, things did not turn out OK when it did. So the final whistle also blew for us. (That’s not him in the picture, and I only wish a tiny little bit it was, really.) It was a hard game, and in the end, rugby was the winner. Or love, or something. More of a Viggo Mortensen movie than a Tom Cruise one, I guess.

Good luck to the Sarks. Rugby club will convene, no doubt, to cheer them on in Melville, and we will love them either way when they get back. Just like we do the Lions. Perhaps they will shine in the Curry Cup. We hope against the odds.

* I want to put it on record that although I am not a Stormers fan, this does not mean that I don’t give credit where it is due. I think Peter Grant’s time as the Springbok flyhalf is long overdue, and that Jean de Villiers did a great job against the English in the last test series. And I did feel very sorry for Bryan when he cried like a baby on Saturday.

May the fourth be with you

I had a groovy birthday. Ruth made kick-ass oxtail for lunch, by way of celebration the next day, and I baked a cake. Many wished me happy birthday on FB. I was against FB for a very long time, suspicious and dismissive, reading all the conspiracy theories and other alarmist propaganda journalism literature. But I succumbed, and am happy that I did. FB reminds you about people’s birthdays – sometimes, and then I can wish them happy birthday in return. This is good. Sometimes you get a request for birthday info from a friend and the request turns out to be some app that demands all your information – email, phone, sexual-, medical- and institutional history, ID number, literacy level and whether or not you can make mayonnaise without a recipe, so I often just cancel the whole process half-way. It smacks of the rampant invasion of privacy that early sceptics warned about. I no longer wish to be reminded of that. Besides, now when I post, the link goes onto my FB page and then, sometimes, more than ten people read the blog.

But back to my birthday. I share the 4th of May with an unsurprisingly long list of people, but not many famous ones, which makes one wonder how Wikipedia decided who to include. Although, I guess if you were a Greek football fan in the 1970s, you might have known who Antonis Minou was. Robbie probably knows who he was, but I don’t think that makes him famous.  (No, Robbie IS famous.) Their general anonymity, on the other hand, is surprising because a large number of these people were actors and musicians. I was pleased to see that I shared a birthday with Audrey Hepburn and Pia Zadora. Better than Hitler, Wouter Basson or Britney Spears, I say. At the turn of the previous millennium there were a couple of heads of state, and in this millennium, one scientist, one mathematician, one trans-gender surgeon-pioneer,  one bishop and Hosni Mubarak. But mostly the list consists of artists, writers, sportsmen (no sportswomen, actually) and a couple of politicians. I am no exception to this rule. Like most of the people on it, I am also not famous. Which I think is OK. Famous people really have to watch the shit they write – just ask Helen Zille.

I am not going to muse more about turning older, except to say that I find it gets harder as you go along, mostly because of constant improvements in medical science and face creams. Combined with the current fashionable tendency to live healthier lives, innovation in these fields means that we are never ever going to be able to afford to retire: by the time we die the annuity would have been kaput for two decades or more. That stuff is expensive, as I am sure you know. Anyway. I had a good day. Thanks for the good wishes, and may we all turn a wonderful age this year.

Back in the saddle

Well, I have no excuses left, of course, the research report is done, and I am now officially the recipient of a master’s degree in investigative journalism from Wits University. Or will be, once I pay the R90 copyright fee that the fees office claims I owe Wits for my report. I argue that I have already paid the R90, and surely they do not charge you R90 for every year that you are registered. Etc. Considering the thousands of rand that this particular upskilling has cost me, many may suggest that I should just pay and graduate already. But enough is enough. Anyway. There is no other writing, no other guilt, nothing whatsoever that keeps me from resuming the blog.

And what better inspiration than the discovery of a lovely word that serves both to educate and to entertain? A priapism is a persistent, long-lasting erection. Although I know of some imagine there are many… people… who would find this a desirable er, state, not so poor Henry Wolf from San Francisco who has suffered from such a priapism since 1 May 2010. Henry believes it was brought on by two back-to-back two-hour rides on his 1993 BMW motorcycle and the poorly designed ridge on the seat. (Seriously Henry? It didn’t even hurt?) He is very distressed and is suing BMW. He cannot have sex, which has brought him much anguish, understandably.  He is also suing for lost wages and so on. This story appeared in the Huffington Post today, exactly two years after the tragic event occurred. I wondered briefly if it had really been an April fool’s story that was spiked at the time and saved for later use – you know, stuff that would never float it past the public prosecutor here is often taken quite seriously in the land of the free and the home of the brave. But no, it seems quite serious. The obvious question is, of course, why did it take Henry so long to lay a charge? There are two possibilities. Either their court backlog is at least as dire as ours, or the (possible) initial charm of the er, situation started to wear a bit thin. Nonetheless, I am sure his mother told him that motorbikes were dangerous, and he just didn’t listen.


Reality Bites

Ok. I am watching the Saturday night movie on a screen that lacks snow, floating lines and ghost vision – you know when you have double vision while watching TV and you have only been drinking tea all night. That kind of vision. Yes, I know, the period in which this is believable is the nineteen eighties. Still, I know for a fact that since then I spent at last one Saturday night drinking tea. But I am veering off track. I am grateful that I am not driving.

The short version is that since my last blog in (gasp!) early August, Lily sent Elias to slip notes under all the doors in Hampshire House advising occupants that people will come to install the DSTV cables. And so they did. The white cable edged unobtrusively on on top of the skirting, around the corner, behind the TV stand.  There the end was lassoed and tied. Ah good, I thought, when I get DSTV in the near or far future,  or even five years from now, I don’t have to do the whole dish thing.

But there was more. On a Saturday morning, some few days after the installation, I kissed darling goodbye outside the front door and there were guys busy with the new cables some way down the corridor. We waved good morning.  Darling went. Seconds later there was a knock on the door and a very short fellow appeared and asked if I had been “connected”. “You must really struggle to reach things on the top shelf,” I restrained myself from saying and let him in to connect me. I was not afraid. Although he had the lean, edgy and rugged good looks of a young Mel Gibson in a post-mullet universe, he must have stood no higher than 5’2” in his Cats. If the morning was going to turn into bad slasher flick, it was most likely going to be Defence of the 50 Foot Woman.

Anyway, I cleaned the house while he fiddled with the cable, and when he left, I had a perfect picture on my own TV, for the first time since I have owned one.

Ok.  So. See? Vaguely entertaining as that might be, it is neither interesting nor replete with universal truths, which is why I am not writing a lot on the blog.  I will look our for more interesting things to write about when I am not rolling the research-report roller-coaster of ecstasy and despair.

(The despair is mostly about the fact that I have discovered that for the report to be really good, I may to go back to the public-sphere theoretical framework, and that is very hard on the brain.)

And so on. Perhaps tomorrow morning’s papers will be fun.

You don’t say

Again, no really, cell phones are a potential cancer risk. How is this news? Etv reported tonight that the WHO is considering classifying cell phones as potentially carcinogenic. Are you kidding me? Have they lost tonight’s bulletin and read the 1 June, 2001 bulletin by mistake?

Growing children whose brains are allegedly still developing are at greater risk – still. Greater than what, one would ask. Greater than an irritated adult in a movie theatre threatening to drag the kid outside and phone her parents if she did not stop Mxit-ing during Pirates of the Caribbean? Again, as they say, The Research is still inconclusive. For many years now, I believe.

One can only hope that that The Research will be able to prove, soon, that cell phone use in excess of ten (fifteen?) minutes a day really does cause cancer, and we may all be saved from the offense of individuals in restaurants, in queues and apparently, soon next to you on Kulula, who believe that being out of reach for even a second will have terrible consequences for the very fabric of space and time. I am an imaginative human being, and I cannot possibly imagine what those consequences would be, especially since I am no longer in TV production and have never been in advertising. If it is vital to be in contact with your co-workers or your mother, stay in the office or at home; don’t go out to lunch or shopping in Hyde Park.

I would celebrate such proof, personally. Conclusive evidence of cell phones’ cancer-causing properties must surely put in motion government efforts to ban their use in public. And if that takes as long as it takes the phone companies to blow ten years’ legal fees, popular culture and the modern inclination of parents to combat every single potential health risk to their offspring would surely lead to a reduction in the scourge forthwith.

Some would persist in unmitigated use, of course. We have known that cigarettes cause cancer for years and still, outside the steep inclines of 25 Owl Street, hundreds of call centre operators still suck deeply on their nicotine fix a couple of times a day – even when the temperature outside has dropped to zero and the wind cuts through glass.

No, they don’t call it Crackberry for nothing.

So, in the same vein, one would be able ask one’s guests not to take phone calls in one’s house – not that they do in mine, for some reason. But more importantly, when you don’t want to take someone’s call or must cut a terminally dull conversation short, you could legitimately claim that you have, or are about to, exceed your cancer-free allowance for the day. I think it would be fantastic. Even without an incentive to reduce my cell-phone use by ten per cent, in the winter, or at any other time, I could cut it down by ninety per cent to a total of ten seconds per day and be the happier for it. If others managed to do the same, I may quite possibly up my private-to-friend-time ratio.  I would actually consider having more friends than I do now. But that is a different blog and possibly a reason to seek professional help.

Back to tonight’s news. The real reason why I started blogging tonight was the headline that Cosatu was threatening to take legal action at Constitutional Court in the face of the imminent Protection of Information Bill.

I guess I just got side tracked. I wanted to say roughly the same thing about the PIB and its big mate, the MAT (Media Appeals Tribunal) than I did about the staggering cell-phone-cancer revelations but to say it about the PIB requires less ranting and more referencing. So that will have to wait until tomorrow. No, really.

Shocking, really

Jill Greenberg "The Truth"

So according to News24, the ANC feels that acting judge Leon Halgryn “appears to have misunderstood the nature of the relief which was sought by the ANC.” On Monday in the South Gauteng High Court the judge said that “the publication and chanting of the words ‘dubula ibhunu’, prima facie (should that be “prima facie-ly”?) satisfies the crime of incitement to murder”, and refused the ANC leave to appeal, so now they are “perturbed and shocked”.

I think that the language of the statement reveals the essence of The Ruling Party’s relationship with the universe of their planet. I someone disagrees with The Party, the person must be deficient: clearly the judge misunderstood the “nature of the relief” they “sought”. They sought legal sanction for acting like bombastic despots who can ransack the spirit of our constitution and plunder its intentions. And, in the predictable manner of a (very) rich spoilt brat who had a whim refused by its nanny, it is “shocked”. Poor baby. (I think it is safe to go with the nanny metaphor… I  like the idea of our justice system babysitting the ANC.)

Really. Their spin doctor should be fired.

Today I am going to work, and at five I am going  to vote.  [Note to self: must remember green ID book.]

Imitating Art

I watched Jamie on TV last night: he was in Venice, trying to improve on carpaccio, Giuseppe Cipriani’s signature dish in perhaps the most famous and enduring Italian restaurant of all time – Harry’s Bar. Instead of the pale drizzle of mustard sauce which, in combination with the glistening red of the finely sliced beef inspired the name of the dish (the colours reminded Guiseppe of the work of Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio), Jamie heaped a pile of shaved zucchini, radicchio and mint on it and drizzled it with vinaigrette.

It looked very pretty, at least, but it’s probably not culinary art.

After that he tried to add melted chocolate to tiramisu. Of course you can add chocolate to coffee-soaked savoiardi, top it with an egg-mascarpone sabayon liberally laced with alcohol, and sprinkle cocoa on top. It would probably be delicious. It would just not be tiramisu. Jamie calls this concoction “my chocolatey tiramisu”. What is that? What would he do next? Add potatoes to the ossobuco and call it “ossobuco Dublin”? I really do appreciate cross-continental-(I know to the rest of us Britain is a small misty island, but the Brits still think they own half the world)-fusion-cook-anything-you-friggen-like-together-type cuisine, but let’s call a spade a spade.  Veal-shin-and-potato stew would not be ossobuco. Jamie’s probably delicious pud with eggs an’ a bit o’ “maascarpony” is not tiramisu. (I think.) Jamie cooks Italian just like he speaks it. He knows the words, but when he puts them together the result is not quite… Italian. And now I am going to stop using hyphenated compound adjectives.

In spite of the alarming number of cookbooks I have, I do not have a single one by Jamie Oliver. I am not sure why. There is nothing new, exiting or particularly revealing about his books. They are average books for average cooks, and I guess that is their appeal. The only time that I felt vaguely wistful about anything Jamie Oliver did was when he drove an old camper van all over Italy and ventured to cook with the locals in every province. Now that, for me, is a dream. Even so, when the response to his cooking was “good, but not Italian”, I felt a little vindicated. When the Italian farmers made him kill the lamb he was going to cook, his tears irritated me. It irritates me when people who cook meat are squeamish about the truth of how it reaches the pot. Only vegetarians are allowed to cry.

Anyway. The reason I got to be irritated with Jamie the choir boy is that I had access to DSTV, on account of spending the night in a very nice hotel room in Woodstock, Cape Town. No, really – there are hotels in Woodstock. Or one, anyway, and it is surprisingly lovely. Amidst the factories, towards the Roodebloem-highway side of Woodstock, is this brand new hotel with decently sized rooms, crisp and thick cotton sheets, acceptable room-service food and DSTV.

I am here for the Impumelelo “Beyond Talk” skills workshop. Tomorrow I have to give, for the first time in my life, a PowerPoint presentation. Fortunately it will be short, and I have a video to show.

(I admit that I no longer remember what I was going to say about the rest of my holiday since my last holiday post, other than that it was wonderful and that I saw, for the first time, places everybody should see before they die: the Swartberg pass, Meiringspoort, the Langkloof, and  kilometres of deserted road in the vicinity of the South African coast during the summer holidays.)

Would be a shame

The blog is not for advertising stuff – I am against advertising in principle. But Big Fish still has some spaces left in their 2nd year drama and doccie courses – fully sponsored tuition – and it would be a shame not to fill them. The course is eight months, full time, and really for people who have some grounding in film already (proof of any writing, editing, camera or production work is required): absolute beginners are accepted into the entry-level programme and that one is bursting at the seams.

To get in you have to love movies.

The training is project-based (3-5 films in the year) and hands-on (industry professionals teach small classes).

Doccie course starts 15 Feb (2 places available) and the drama course on 22 March (6 places). Contact Connie Mosegedi on 011 482 5599 or email on

…and a Happy New Year.

Quiver tree forest, Gannabos

I have not written for a long time, and it’s beginning to be a bit weird. But there is no use crying over spilt writing opportunities; today is the last day of the first month of the new year, and since January screamed past like it had a hot poker up its ass and it was looking for some water, there is no reason to believe that February might not do the same.

When I told Evan (best physiotherapist in the world, really) last week that I was going back to gym this year, he also pointed out that 2011 was well into its third week, and, like, so…? Well… I promptly went back to gym.

As a rule, I don’t look too far back when I have been lax in my updates here, because so much interesting stuff happens every day that is worth mentioning. Thinking about it now, it is a wonder that I have time for a relationship at all. Unlike the pivotal question of whether or not three bags of Rwandan Kivu from Bean There equal three bags of La Piramide from Switch, the blog and its take on the wonders of life has not been the cause of underlying tension a’tall. No, really.

But this time I am going to make an exception, mostly because I schlepped my laptop along on a 4000km, 16 day, 10-stop road trip (looking back, I recant everything I ever said about folk who had a wonderful time on a five-day-six-city-kontiki tour to Europe), and took the time to make notes for the blog whenever darling and I were not speaking to each other. When I opened the notes today they were a little more than 1500. It meant that although I had time to write, I did not have a lot of it. I thought of the mixed feelings jokes: a man hears his mother-in-law drove his new car into the river; a woman tells her husband, “darling, you really do have a bigger penis than your best friend”, and so on.

We really had a wonderful holiday, and we saw the most astonishing places. Here is the short-hand version.

Day 1: 19 December

Not much moves in Carnavon on a Sunday afternoon, other than a couple of chickens in a couple of chicken-wired yards, and the wind through the tops of the blue gums in the municipal caravan park, which makes it more than a little spooky.

The park was well sign-posted and easy to find, but its apparent desolation was a little depressing after a nine-hour drive. There were five or six cars from different parts of the country parked in front of what turned out to be the caretaker’s house, but no man or woman was in sight. What was clearly displayed on the gate, however, was an unambiguous picture of a dog with fearsome fangs, so when it turned out that the bell on the fence was connected only to a short piece of wire flapping in the wind, we decided not to go in and knock on the door.

A man stepped out of the single caravan parked about a hundred metres from the house and started to fiddle with his mobile satellite dish. He did not look dangerous, so we went over to find out what was up, and he told us. He had sores on his legs. When I glanced at the open door I saw a dusty and lonely counter top piled with cables. Carl thought that he was a travelling contractor of sorts. He never unhooked the bakkie he was hitched to, and the next day we passed him twice on the way to Williston and Calvinia – twice because we stopped to take pictures of the corbelled houses. I think he may almost have been the only other car on the road in a landscape littered with tight piles of black rock. I fantasised that a huge, prehistoric antelope dumped all over the place – made bokdrolletjies – and that grass grew between the petrified excrements.

Oh yes. Camping space in Carnavon was R20 for the night – without electricity, which could be had for an extra R2,50.

Day 2 & 3: 20 & 21 December

We passed right through Calvinia, thinking that we would stop for supplies (head of lettuce, lamb chops, tomatoes, cheddar – hardly gourmet stuff) in Nieuwoudtville instead. “Well, there’s a decision you’ll live to regret,” the butcher said after telling us that her lamb chops had been sold out, as had any other chops one could care to mention. They had tongue, soutvleis, gammon and some beef and chicken sosaties that looked reasonably attractive. We hovered over the fridge, a little puzzled that in an area where the only animals you see in miles and miles of nothingness are sheep, the only butcher in a 70km radius has run out of lamb chops.

Two packs of sosaties later we arrived at the Cape Nature Conservation office to get a camping permit for the Oorlogskloof nature reserve . The young woman behind the desk was helpful, friendly and clueless about the site itself.

There was not much by the way of an actual camp site. There was a shaded parking lot, but no ablutions to speak off. There was a long drop but no washing area. Carl looked around hopefully, and walked and prodded a bit, and the longer he did that, the more I panicked. “But baby,” I wailed, “why do we have to stay here if it is completely horrible?” I would like to think that my personal distress prompted him to get in the car with me, but I know, in my heart, that it was the emptiness of the water bowser near the entrance that moved him. He is nothing if not a sensible camper. We crawled back to Nieuwoudtville, reclaimed our monies and set off in search of the municipal caravan park – seeing that our first experience (Carnavon) was not a disaster.

We never quite made it there, as the local estate agent has cunningly opened a caravan facility en route to the municipal one, and by mistake, we stopped there and inquired. It was pricey by comparison, R150 for the night, but he also immediately offered us the self-catering guest house on the property for R150 per person per night, and there was no contest, really. Nieuwoudtville completely redeemed itself.

We hiked the kloof the next day, in better spirits, carrying our own water, and later on we drove to the waterfall and the quiver tree forest.

Day 4 & 5:  22 & 23 December

Cederberg / Sanddrift camp site

“If there is a lonely road, we have travelled it,” darling said on the pass down from the Nieuwoudtville escarpment. The names in the map – Bokkeveld, Namakwaland, Hantam Karoo – rolled off the tongue with ease. We crossed the Droërivier.  I thought of other Afrikaner names that were either utterly functional or self-fulfilling prophesies: Ouboet, Tiny. You have a lot of time to think about stuff on a road in the Northern Cape.

We stopped in Clanwilliam. Carl was expecting some work e-mail, and sniffed about for a 3G signal, which he found on a bench in the street. He sat down and downloaded. He looked like an internet bergie.  Further down the road was the Yellow Allow Coffee Shop. They had decent apple pie, omelette and you could bring our own wine. I hauled the ½ bottle of GC Tortoise Hill out of the cooler box. It was not my shift behind the wheel, and I was in the mood. We sat on the stoep. Carl ordered “tap water”. “’Kraan water” the waitress corrected him, but he shook his head. “Kraan water,” he said in a thick English accent, “klink soos Valpre,” and the waitress laughed a lot.

She plugged in my computer for me, and I downloaded non-work e-mail and made notes.  I wished for a moment that I wrote what Giulietta calls “this crap” for a real magazine, so that I could tell people what great service-with-a-smile we got in Clanwilliam.

And so on to the Cederberg, and real magic.