DUTCHMAN’S TROUSERS

I have grown up with drought. My father, a farmer, used to look up at an overcast sky and shake his head sadly saying “There’s enough blue sky to patch a Dutchman’s trousers, so it won’t rain.” I was always intrigued by this expression, which I never heard being used outside my family – although I have passed it on to mine. He explained that ‘Dutchman’s trousers’, was a nautical term referring to the patch of blue sky that appeared when the weather broke, indicating fine weather to follow. The phrase refers to the very wide-legged blue pants that Dutch sailors used to wear – and which obviously needed to be patched from time to time.

While searching the Internet to verify this, I came across this interesting and informative song composed by Tom Lewis:

Dutchman’s Trousers

In the times when I was nothing but a lad,
I never did see much of m’Dad,
Oft’times that was reason to be sad,
For him and m’Granddad too were deep-sea sailors,
But m’Grandmother took me for walks by the sea,
To teach me the ways that the weather can be.
She’d study the sky and say to me:
“There’s just enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.”

“In the wintertime when the North winds blow,
And the sky takes on a silvery glow,
That’s a certain sign that it’s going to snow.
You must be ready to chip the ice from the rigging,
But if the wind is from the Southwest,
And the spray’s being blow back from the wave’s crest,
Batten down the hatches and hope for the best,
If you’re lucky you’ll see the blue of the Dutchman’s trousers.”

Chorus:
The Pilot gives us a “farewell” hail,
Haul on the halyards of the mainsail,
The wind is steady, there’s a following gale,
With just enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.

So when I became an Able Hand,
I remembered the lessons that I learned from m’Gran
The mates would call me: “the weather-man,”
On each ship I was the one with the reputation,
Who knew if a breeze or a gale would blow,
When I came on deck from down below
The Skipper would always want to know:
“Will there be enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers?”

Where the saying came from I really don’t know,
The Hollanders used to be our foe,
That was a very long time ago.
For centuries now we’ve sailed the seas together.
From the great Southern Ocean to the Mediterranean,
On a sailing ship or a submarine,
The days are few and far between
When there’s not enough blue to patch a Dutchman’s trousers.

AIRBORNE

Since the COVID-19 pandemic sowed pandemonium around the world in the wake of borders of provinces and whole countries being closed, local and overseas flights being cancelled, and stringent restrictions being placed on the movements of citizens, the sky above our town has been quiet indeed. No local planes being flown for fun, no hangliders, and certainly no sight or sound of large aeroplanes moving between Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg, for example. What an unusual sight this is then:

This has not been oft repeated. There was a time when the low hum of a large plane flying overhead was ignored, now I look up and wonder where the passengers are going … and whether these flights are going to be regular once more … only to be followed by days of silence in the sky. The national carrier is still grounded, smaller airlines have had to shut up shop, and those that have opened tend to bypass Part Elizabeth – our nearest airport.

MAC SUPPORT

Lelie-kind rubbed her eyes and sighed deeply. It’s no use sobbing, she thought, there’s no-one here to hear me. She stared at the stubbornly blank screen on her computer. What had she done wrong? Which key had she pressed last? She brewed another cup of green tea and pondered the problem of how she was to finish her opinion piece on the Zuma statue drama. It had been so exciting to be asked to write for the local Burger Nuus and now she wouldn’t even be able to submit it! Thank goodness Jacob Zuma had been removed from office and they would be spared that life-size monstrosity!

She needed help desperately. It was Tuesday and the Pensioner’s Tea Club hadn’t met on Monday because Tannie Bev had been driving back from Cape Town, Felsity still had her sister visiting her, and Tannie Anna had been kuiering in a game reserve. Lelie-kind shook her head sadly: not only were they growing old; were they now growing apart? Tannie Bev had missed three teas in a row already!

Lelie-kind picked up her new-fangled cell phone and scrolled to the Pensioner’s Tea Club Whats-app Group – thank goodness we are all up to date on that score she thought as she slowly typed her message:

Disaster has struck! Meet for tea at ten. I will book. Bring thinking caps.

Felsity responded first: Thinking cups? I don’t have one. Has Die Groot Koeksuster run out of cups? Will a mug do?

Then came Tannie Bev: Please order cheesecake. Sick of chocolate cake!

Wendolina: I have already used my pensioner’s discount on lettuce seedlings!

Liesbet: Pumpkins would be better for winter.

Wendolina: I live on salads. Will you bring those tomato seedlings you promised last week?

Liesbet: You didn’t collect them.

Karen: What disaster? I have potted mint!

Lelie-kind watched the messages come in. Each beep brought her hope, only to be dashed. What about her problem? She put it to them as soon as the members of the Pensioner’s Tea Club had assembled at Die Groot Koeksuster.

“I desperately need some Mac support. Do any of you know who could help me?”

Conversation halted as the ladies looked at each other mystified. Felsity pulled her mug from her capacious bag and held it up accusingly. “Lelie-kind, why did you tell me to bring my mug? There’s mos lots of cups here!”

Merilee dabbed her lips with the flimsy bit of paper that passed for a serviette and took another bite of cheesecake. “Is your mac torn?” she asked with concern. “I covered a tear in my mac with a strip of insulation tape. That will keep me dry.”

“As if we’ll have any rain!” Wendolina nearly choked on her tea. “You’ll have to wait for summer to come around again.”

“Always be prepared I say,” Merilee responded primly. “A stitch in time saves nine you know.”

“Insulation tape? I must remember that,” Tannie Anna wrote in her notebook. “I hate sewing!”

Liesbet turned to Lelie-kind. “Are you talking about a MacDonald burger? You know I had what they call a gourmet burger at Piet’s Place the other day.”

Piet’s Place! Since when have you been frequenting a pub and so-called restaurant?” Tannie Anna waved her pencil in the air. “Such places are for young people and the irresponsible segments of society.”

Segments!” Karen guffawed, her dangly earrings glinting in the morning sunlight. “Segments, really Tannie Anna, anyone would think we live in a caterpillar!”

“It’s very respectable if you go early,” Liesbet continued smoothly. “I even saw Dominee van Liebenberg there with his wife. She had a new hairdo.”

Lelie-kind put her hands over her ears. “I wish it was that simple! I have a problem with my Apple Mac!”

“Apples? There aren’t any apples here!” Tannie Bev waved her hand over the table, knocking over the sugar bowl. “Ag hene, what a mess!”

“Yes, I used to read those stories to my children when they were small,” Karen laughed. “They were so funny.”

“Did you leave an apple in your mac?” Merilee leaned forward to scrape the sugar into a heap with the remains of her serviette. “They shrivel long before they disintegrate you know. Has yours gone rotten? I don’t know if you can wash macs in the machine.”

“I tried washing my tackies with the sheets,” Felsity added. “They’ve never been the same. I think the cycle was too hot.”

“You cycle?” Wendolina sounded surprised. I thought you walked everywhere! Anyway, I only wash in cold water. Ag Lelie-kind, be a dear and ask for some extra hot water to top up the tea pot.”

Lelie-kind stood up. “It’s my Apple Mac that’s a problem.” She felt desperate.

“What’s that?” Felsity looked at her intently. “You know I would help if I understood what the problem is.”

“It’s my computer Felsity. My computer is called an Apple Mac.”

Felsity turned over her new cell phone. “You mean like this half eaten apple?” She shook her head and clucked knowingly. “No wonder you have a problem with it. I couldn’t hear my phone for a week until the young man at the cell phone place showed me I had activated the ‘do not disturb’ thingy. I didn’t even know the phone had such a thing! Are you sure you didn’t press the ‘do not disturb’ button?”

“Sorry I can’t help,” Liesbet poured more tea. “I saw fresh apples in the shop yesterday though.”

“Have you got a new apple pie recipe Liesbet? Yum! Bring it next time.” Tannie Bev pushed away her empty plate.

“You have to buy your cake here,” Karen reminded them.

“Perhaps we could meet for Scrabble and apple pie,” Tannie Anna suggested wistfully.

“Not Scrabble again,” Merilee complained. “I keep telling you we should play bridge.”

“I can’t play bridge,” Karen said crossly. She turned to Lelie-kind, “Sorry about your phone Lelie-kind. You’ll just have to cross that bridge when you come to it.”

“What bridge?” Wendolina squeezed the last drop of tea from the small metal tea pot. “You know they’ve fixed the potholes in Deurmekaar Street? Some of them were so deep they needed bridges to cross them!”

“It’s – not –  my  – phone. It is my computer that’s stopped working!” Lelie-kind was almost shouting in frustration.

“Your computer! Why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Wendolina rummaged around in her bag, pulling out notebooks, cash slips, an old lipstick and a cracked mirror in the process. “It’s here somewhere, I know. Ah! Look here.” She smoothed out a crumpled sheet of paper. “My son once told me of this computer doctor in the next dorp. Here’s the phone number.” A triumphant smile wreathed her lined face.

“The next dorp!” Tannie Bev laughed. “How will you and your Apple Mac get there?”

“Easy, just ask Willem Pieterse to drive you in his bakkie. I’ll come with you if you like,” Liesbet offered brightly.

“Enough! Enough! All of you, please pray for me.” Lelie-kind could feel the tears of frustration prick behind her eyelids.

“Why must we pay for you Lelie-kind? I’ve already spent my pensioner’s discount on lettuce seedlings,” Wendolina reminded her.

I’ll pay for her.” Merilee opened her purse.

“Thank you Merilee. I asked you to pray not pay!” Lelie-kind handed over her share of the bill.

“I’ll bake an apple pie,” Liesbet offered as she gathered her things. “Perhaps that will help you sooner than waiting for prayers on Sunday.”

“Right now I’m too nauseous with worry to even contemplate apple pie!”

“Aw Lelie-kind. I’m sorry to hear that. Hope you feel better soon.” Tannie Bev stood up to hug her friend. “I must go now.”

Karen kissed her on the cheek. “I’ll pop in later to check on you.”

Tannie Anna hugged her too. “I’ll ask Jannie if he knows a suitable mechanic for you.”

Mr Leketi watched the group of elderly ladies disperse. As the one called Lelie-kind passed him on the way out, he said softly. “Greatest Solutions on Market Street is the place to go. They fixed my Mac in a jiffy.”

FEBRUARY 2021 GARDEN

The drought continues. In fact, yesterday morning we woke to not a single drop of water in our taps! So far the rain forecast either comes to nothing or it might yield 5mm – that does little more than settle the dust for a little while. This is the second summer in a row that I have not been able to grow vegetables or much in the way of flowers. Yet, there continues to be some colour and things of interest in our garden. The ever faithful frangipani (also known as Plumeria) is blooming beautifully and exudes the most delightful scent once the sun sets and the garden settles down for the night.

No matter how hot and dry it gets, we can always rely on the Plumbago to provide colour – and such pleasing colour too.

The hibiscus shrubs were already mature when we moved here three decades ago. Their long-lasting blooms too never disappoint.

I am very pleased that the variety of petunias I planted in containers in December continue to provide happy splashes of colour.

Then there are insects, such as this bee foraging on the tiny flowers of a tall weed.

I come across a spider-hunting wasp (Pompilidae) outside the kitchen door.

It is under the lip of an outside windowsill that I see a potential danger lurking in the form of two South African Paper Wasps in the throes of building their intricate nest.

End note: The water supply is trickling back in our pipes.

ANTS ON STEPS

There are few conditions like drought and heat to bring the activity of ants to the fore. We have both in abundance. I happened to sit on the steps outside our kitchen for a few minutes the other day and captured these images with my cell phone. My attention was first drawn to this gap in the wall:

The fine grains of sand spilling out of it is detritus from the mining activities of the ants as they have burrowed deeper into the ground behind the stones that make up the edge of the steps leading up to the top of the terrace. A spider has taken advantage of this gap to catch unsuspecting passersby. Where there is ant activity, there must be ants. I didn’t have far to look:

Here some of them are, walking up and down the leaves of this succulent plant growing right next to the steps. All of them were busy – too busy to stop and look around; to chat to their fellow workers; or simply to take a rest. All were focused on whatever job they had to do. Now among these ants are some construction workers, some of which must have tunnelled holes between the stone risers and built these towers:

I cannot help wondering if these are ‘cooling towers’ such as we see at some of our (dysfunctional) power stations on the Highveld.