Archive | April 2010

A LITTLE STORY ABOUT A GARDENER

In May 2008, South Africa was beset by violent xenophobic attacks on foreign, migrant workers.  62 people died and many lives were affected.  This is a diary entry from my journal during that time.

 

STOMP-THE-YARD

Stomp, our resident Zimbabwean Man-Who-Does, got his name as a result of losing half a leg when he was hit by a car in Sauer Street in 1978.  He more or less rules our little compound, mends fences and steadfastly refuses to indulge my yen for a Zen garden; constantly perfecting his wavy flowerbeds with a sharp spade.

We bought him a prosthesis some years back, but he prefers to go about his business with a cane and with his stump wrapped in one of Original Bunn’s old ballet stockings and manages a sprightly trot twice daily with the dogs, doffing his hat and making ribald suggestions to the local nannies.

He has been a third parent to The Bunn in her growing years and exhibits tireless patience; he once spent three hours in a wardrobe when a neighbour child popped over the wall and he Bunn promptly forgot that she and Stomp had been engaged in a game of hide and seek.  He frets about her diet and berates me for the lack of bread and butter as accompaniment to all our meals.  He is wild about television and becomes impossible to deal with if – for any reason – he misses The Bold and The Beautiful.

Every year, Stomp saves part of his monthly wages in a Post Office savings account for a Big Present for a family member back home.  When the Big Present is purchased a complicated series of phone calls leads to us taking a long drive to Beit Bridge, where a relative (who is rewarded for the service) meets us to collect the Big Present and sundry grocery items and take Stomp off for his annual month-long visit.  To date there have been: a sewing machine for his wife, a typewriter for his daughter (a school teacher) and an arc welding machine for his youngest son; amongst others. 

This year, the Big Present is a bicycle for his grandson.

It is the custom, on the first Sunday of every month, for Stomp’s wife and eldest son to wait, at 10am, at the public telephone outside the general dealer in their village, where Stomp will call them.  It has now been three weeks since he encountered the disconnected signal on the general dealer’s public phone.

There is a shiny yellow and black bicycle in my garage, waiting for a little boy.

There is a very sad old man in my garden, not worrying much about anything on television, except for the news.

Stomp died in June that year.

We received a call late this afternoon to tell us that Stomp passed away at about 5.20pm.  He had been suffering from a bad cold for a while and we took him in to the hospital on Thursday.  We were told he had pneumonia. 

Despite the contradiction to his cultural tradition, we have no choice but to have Stomp cremated.  When things are a little calmer we will arrange for his family to have his ashes.

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FEEDING THE PHILISTINES

I never had sex-before-marriage. My husbands will attest to this, although you may be hard-pressed to find them given that Number One came out of the closet (bad bump to my ego – was it the sex?) after an indecently short time and fled to Australia. Number Two (MHSRIP) succumbed to a chronic illness and Number Three (a cad and bounder of the first order) went all silly over The Girl At Reception (was it the sex?).

Number Four, however, is a keeper. A truly wonderful man, he has all the right qualities: excellent taste in diamonds and wine, very easy on the eye, likes doing the grocery shopping and is an excellent cook. He’s quite old, so he doesn’t put too much pressure on me when it comes to the business of rumpy-pumpy. He also keeps his dogs until they become blind and smelly, which gives you some measure of the man. He did, however, give me a child some years ago, which makes me quite cross when I think back on it, but – then again – you can’t have everything …

We have jolly good time together, so it always surprises me when he gets out of hand; which he did one Saturday morning a couple of months ago. He interrupted my quiet reading to announce that we had to Have.The.Philistines.Over – that night! This made me so livid that I had to have a tot of whiskey in my coffee. To give you an idea of the horror that awaited me: these people went to the Celine Dion concert! Mrs. P. considers Wilbur Smith a good writer and Mr. P. wears mock-Crocks; they had recently vacationed at Margate and would want to show their photographs of Oribi Gorge. They would bring their children and allow them to talk. They would drink Fifth Avenue Cold Duck.

My GBF and I had a telephone chat and I had my defence strategy mapped out, I would cook a vicious Chicken Vindaloo. Perhaps this would make them refuse the next invitation?

Postscript:
Suffice to say the night was ghastly. My attempts to be as offensive as possible were misinterpreted and The Philistines brayed like randy horses at each insult I threw their way. Never again! I think I would rather take tea with Mr. Mugabe.

But my table did look very nice …

©Cindy Taylor 2008 / Edited

I SMILED WHEN I WAS COOKING

My friend was driving across the country. Not just to see me, but I couldn’t wait to see her again.

In the middle of the morning, she sent a sms:

Sod Wordsworth’s daffodils, you should see the fields of sunflowers in the Free State today.

And I smiled and began to chop herbs, and sauté some tiny button mushrooms.

I crumbled some feta cheese, added the herbs and mushrooms and spooned the mixture into deboned chicken breasts. I rolled them up nice and snug and put them in a baking dish.

Then I made a sauce of tomatoes and more herbs, some garlic and chilli. I poured it over the meat and put it in the oven. I mashed eleven potatoes, the chicken would be robust; it would hold its own against the buttery mash.

Later, she fetched the sweet, sweet lad. And we ate, we laughed; we made another memory for the scrapbook.

There was wine too …

CORRUPTING MY CHILD’S INTENTIONS TO BE A BUNNY-HUGGER

We’re a small household, just three of us and my daughter has suddenly decided she doesn’t eat meat anymore. As she puts it, she won’t eat “anything that once had a face”. On Monday her resistance crumbled; I’d stuffed little apples with sage leaves and packed them around a leg of pork. Slow roasted in the oven, the outside of the apples caramalised and the soft inside, glorious with sage fumes, made a sublime sauce for the meat. The kitchen was cosy with heat and we had a right feast.

A bit of mustard, the leftovers and a nice crusty baguette made for a perfect lunch at my desk yesterday.

SLOW, OLD-FASHIONED FOOD

My grandfather may well, now that I look back on things, have been a bit of a tyrant, he once slapped my mother’s hand with a carving knife when she reached for a morsel of the chicken he was carving.

I’ve written before of my suspicions that he was, quite possibly, gay. When I think about him three things about him are prevalent: his perfect grooming, the wonderful fabrics he draped in unlikely places (a swag of brocade hung, for no practical purpose, in the middle of the passage in my grandparent’s home), and his dining room.

The dining room and the meals eaten in it were always quite formal and the tablescape is set like a photograph in my mind. The linen was white and heavy, the silverware was bone-handled and that table held the last silver cruet set I have ever seen used daily. The carpet faithfully held on to the cabbage and gravy odour that snuck into all the other rooms of the house.

They dressed for meals and actually had a little bell rung when the food was ready to be served; he’d go and ‘wash up’ and don a blazer, I never saw him eating in his shirtsleeves, except on Sunday nights; when they would have their supper on a tray in their bedroom.

Groceries were ordered daily, and a man would deliver them on a bicycle, taking the slip with the order for the next day away with him.

They ate foods that are now completely old-fashioned, even the names sound quaint today; herrings and coddled eggs, griddle cakes and potted ham. Their main meal was always at lunchtime, and always three courses; the first being soup. My gran would never eat the soup course, and he would say “Not very hungry, Pet?” every single day. She, having had two or three brandies before, would have her elbow on the table, her chin in her hand, and would gaze at him mistily, flicking her cigarette ash in a miniscule ashtray she carried everywhere with her.

White pepper, grated cucumber in vinegar, Worcestershire Sauce.
Poached haddock in double cream and parsley, sherried apples, mulligatawny.
Chateaubriand, red cabbage with raisins. Toad-in-the-hole and Devils-on-horseback…

How I wish I could cook for him and dine with him at my own table, just once!

Mon grand-père, le feinschmecker de tyran!

OF LEARNING TO LOVE A KITCHEN

“Tell us about these childhood chores; mucking out the pigs, herding the cattle or polishing the antique silverware. What you liked, and how you tried (and succeeded) to get out of the ones you did not like.”

I’m not sure that my mother was deliberately trying to instill in me a love of cooking or whether she had simply allocated kitchen chores to me, as the eldest child. I can’t actually remember that my brother and sister had any chores at all, but I had no other chores than those that took place in the kitchen; and all of them alone with my mother.

The earliest memories, I must have been around ten years old, are clear as a bell; crumbing bread, sage and chopped onions for chicken stuffing, stirring grated cheese into cream for the cauliflower while she stood next to me and grated nutmeg into the mix.

It became my duty to make the salad for weekday suppers, while she saw to the meat. To this day the smell of cucumber in vinegar instantly brings to mind the little fluted glass bowl she liked to serve it in .

I expect that the washing up after cake baking fell to me because I could lick the mixing bowl and spoon in the scullery, where she couldn’t see me do it and so wouldn’t have to reprimand me for it.

Making the gravy from the residual juices from the roast in that ubiquitous aluminum kastrol* that every household had in those days, cutting gem squash in half and removing the pips, scraping the flesh of peeled potatoes to make hasselback bakes … and talking, talking, talking, while she washed the dishes and I dried.

No, I don’t remember feeling any resentment about my allocated chores. Not at all. And Le Creuset be damned, I cherish my own kastrol*, it’s like having my mom peeping over my shoulder in my own kitchen.

* Although kastrol is the Afrikaans word for stewpan or saucepan, these aluminum roasting pans were always called by this name amongst everyone I knew. Some time ago, Jenny Morris (the Giggling Gourmet) and I were talking on the phone about them, and she said that, as far back as she could remember, it had always been called a kastrol.

WHEN ARCH DIED

Although I had ample time to prepare and knew it was a matter of time, I was wretched with grief. My dearest, darling Uncle Arch (of whom I wrote in my very first blog) had popped off in his sleep; so typical of a man who lived his life with fierce dignity and never made a fuss. He had made me promise that I wouldn’t ‘make a scene at the end of the show’, but I wanted to tear my clothes, scream and grunt until I lost consciousness.

This sole-survivor of the adults of my childhood gave me so much that I was unable to imagine who I might have been without his influence. He ‘took me on’ when other babies began arriving and I was no longer the centre of the universe to my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts. I don’t remember a time without him, although I know from my mother’s diaries that my parents met him on holiday when I was eighteen months old and that he later bought the house-next-door (Archie’s Bunker).

Grey suited and sober, he went off dutifully to his mundane job every weekday, but the weekend always promised flamboyant entertainments for me. He provided so many firsts for me; the cinema (Gigi), the ballet (Swan Lake) and as a teenager, my first Martini. He was there to mop my tears at my first heartbreak. He was the one we rang at ungodly hours when, at college, we were too drunk to drive. He planted the foolish notion in my head that I should write, introduced me to Quentin Crisp and created my habit of re-reading The Picture of Dorian Gray every December holiday. ‘Youth chases the PLOT, my dear, as you age you can better appreciate the CRAFT’.

There was never a hint of scandal about him and, sadly, I don’t think he ever had a long-term love. He certainly indicated this when – back in the 80’s – I asked him about the low incidence of AIDS in his age group and he said that his youth didn’t involve any ‘actual rogering. There was quite a lot of sweaty wrestling and, occasionally, a sweet, stolen, secret kiss’. It is very likely that he lived in mortal fear of going to prison, which was what happened to homosexuals in those days; which he referred to as ‘back when gay meant happy and pansy was a flower’.

He retired at his seaside flat, with a basset hound, Buck and a budgie, Missy. I tried to get down and see him every second week. He was immaculately dressed at 8am every morning; ‘in case of company’ and took tea at 4pm every afternoon at a coffee shop in the harbour, where he could ‘watch the fleet come in’. He refused to embrace technology and dedicated two hours of his morning to ‘receiving and replying to letters’. He walked out in the village with his hound, whom he said helped ‘to initiate conversations with fellow pedestrians and keep muggers at bay’.

In accordance with his wishes and to stop me from ‘buying a new frock, hiring a band and putting on a bloody show’, he took care of his cremation (‘no bloody audience!’) and asked that his ashes were given to me to dispose of where I saw fit (Smitswinkelbaai).

So, there is the story of how I got Buck.

I can just see Uncle Arch laughing at this and mocking me: ‘I was Richard with grief…’