THERE IS NO RUST IN …

Those of you who have moved to a new town will empathise with the difficulties one faces when seeking a home to purchase. An obvious priority is that the house must fit within one’s budget, yet there are many other aspects to consider. The real estate world drums out the message ‘location, location, location’ … in our case, having spent a considerable amount of time travelling between home and school, we were keen to find a house that would be within reasonable walking distance of the schools our children would attend, not only at the time but as they grew older. Then there was the matter of the railway line – in some towns the siting of a house on one side or the other can make a difference of one kind or another. Not here, the estate agent told us, happily pointing out that a judge lived here, an advocate there, a professor somewhere else … This estate agent had several houses on his books and took us to one close to the one we finally settled upon. I had spent a year living at the coast and had been horrified at how quickly everything rusted there. As most of the houses we had looked at didn’t have a garage or, if they did, not one large enough to house our trailer, gardening equipment and so on and the fact that our town is only about 60km from the coast, we inevitably asked “Is there a problem with rust?”

At the time the estate agent was standing at the end of the driveway of a house we had looked at and had his hand balanced on the post box affixed to a wooden pole. It was not this one, yet looked very similar:

He looked at us with a straight face – perhaps not aware of the irony – and declared “There is no rust in Grahamstown.”

Needless to say, we concluded the sale of our present home with someone who appeared to be a little more honest!

MULBERRIES

What do you immediately associate with mulberries?

I think for many of us the answer might be silkworms. I recall having silkworms as a child – shoeboxes filled with these stripy creatures – and getting some of them to spin beautiful bookmarks in various shapes cut from card. I would pick mulberry leaves by the fistful to feed them. Beetroot leaves would result in a pinkish hue to the silk. It was always fun watching them spin their golden cocoons from which furry white moths would emerge. They would lay their eggs in the shoebox, which we would then put away until about September of the following year. This is when the whole cycle would start again.

These silkworms required regular maintenance: we would have to remove the withered leaves from the box (how many tiny silkworms were tossed away during that process?) and clean the box, replenish the box with fresh leaves and make sure the silkworms were all back in place. Their feeding frenzy would continue unabated – it was fascinating to watch how quickly the leaves would be consumed.

A tall, sturdy mulberry tree grew in our garden. During the fruiting season, my brothers and I would shin up the tree to eat the fat, juicy, sun-warmed fruit to our hearts content. We would come down with purple-stained faces, hands, and clothes. Even the soles of our feet would be stained from having stood in the fallen fruit. Sometimes my mother would ask us to fill a little basket so that we could have fresh dark purple mulberries as a dessert – either on their own if there were enough, or she would mix them into a dark jelly. If the ‘harvest’ was particularly bountiful, my Mom would make mulberry jam – a taste of heaven!

What happens to silkworms? I think they pass from one generation of school children to the next. Although I have seen cocoons, eggs and silkworms for sale online – I cannot remember any money changing hands either when I was a child or when my own children went through the ‘silkworm phase’. Perhaps I was only too pleased to be rid of them!

An enormous, spreading white mulberry graced the driveway next to our farmhouse. The fruit from this tree seemed fatter than the purple variety, and was white with a slight tinge of purple. While the white mulberries had a different taste, they too were sweet and were consumed in large quantities while we sat on the sturdy branches. Apparently the white mulberry is invasive and may no longer be planted without a permit – not that we saw any other plants in our farm garden.

There must be silkworms all over the country: it wasn’t long after we moved to the Eastern Cape before our children brought silkworms home from school. Finding mulberry leaves was not an easy task and so we planted a tree in our garden to ensure a regular supply. Birds loved the fruit so much that we didn’t get much of a show in, but the silkworms thrived. In due course they must have been passed on to another generation of young children. The tree was blown over in a storm and has not been replaced.

According to http://southafrica.co.za/mulberries.html mulberries are thought to have originated in China, Japan and the foothills of the Himalayas. The Dutch East India Company imported mulberry trees to South Africa in 1726 in an attempt to establish a silk industry here.

A young mulberry tree has sprung up on the verge of the street that runs behind our home. Its position suggests that it wasn’t planted there deliberately. The tree is never watered and is regularly chomped by the Urban Herd. Right now it is bearing the most delicious fruit that is just about right for picking – unless a cow gets in first!

Do you remember singing the nursery rhyme:

Here we go round the mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush,
The mulberry bush.
Here we go round the mulberry bush
On a cold and frosty morning.

THE DISTINCTIVE ZEBRA

There is no doubt that zebra are photogenic – I have a great number of photographs of them – for they are strikingly beautiful animals. I am particularly fascinated by the patterns on their faces as one can tell from these that, even though they might ‘all look the same’, there are indeed unique features about them. Zebra are often described as having patterns similar to our fingerprints; that no two zebra are exactly alike. I commented on a blog the other day that apparently the stripes on either side of a zebra are different. This is an observation I have read about but, as we usually only see one side of a zebra at a time, it is difficult to verify. Hunting through my collection, I came across a photograph of this zebra drinking at the Domkrag waterhole in the Addo Elephant National Park – an opportunity to see one from above.

The more I look at these two photographs, the more I appreciate how similar the stripe pattern is on both sides – until you actually follow the pattern closely. We seldom get the opportunity to do just that when we see zebra in the wild.

Zebras are distinctive. Their stripe patterns are an indication of just how distinctive they are – each one slightly different from the other.

LOYD EARL GREY TEA

Regular readers will know that I am a fan of Earl Grey tea. Along my tea journey I have discovered that some brands are more delicious than others – a few are to be avoided at all costs! We do not get a wide variety in this country; the two most common brands are both worth having and I keep my supply topped up. How dreadful to find no Earl Grey to drink!

Some will scoff at that remark for the fragrance and sophisticated scent created by the addition of the oil of bergamot orange peel is not everyone’s cup of tea. I was recently gifted a box of Loyd Earl Grey tea bags.

The tea clipper on the box plying its way across the darkening sea is a nod to the historical trips made across the ocean from the Far East to Europe, each ship carrying its precious cargo of tea leaves. If you have visited London, you might be familiar with the Cutty Sark which was among them. So, there is an air of mystery as well as an allusion to the magic referred to in the by-line, the magic experience. When you consider the origins of the tea trade, there is something ‘magical’ about the way leaves from the same plant can be conjured into creating a drink with different hues and tasting experience.

The box informs us that we are about to brew black tea with bergamot flavouring. I wonder what blend of black teas is used. It must be a blend or else we might have been enlightened about the origin of the tea. In fact, we do not even know where the tea is sourced from. What we do know is  that this tea is produced in Poland!

The proof of a tea is in its taste. Brewing a tea bag for the requisite five minutes produces a tea with a good amber colour.

It is a refreshing tea; has a pleasant taste; and is perfectly acceptable as a member of the Earl Grey stable. For those who would like to try Earl Grey but are put off by the aroma and the idea of drinking a ‘scented’ tea, this might be a good brand to start with. As someone who enjoys a strong tea, I find that although this makes a refreshing drink, it lacks a pronounced bergamot flavour. On balance, Loyd Earl Grey tea is worth a try and deserves a place in my tea cupboard.

AUNT BETTY’S CORNER

My late father was an avid reader of The Farmer’s Weekly and once I could read well I enjoyed reading the articles too, gathering quite a lot of incidental information along the way! A column called The Hitching Post delighted the older me – tickled by the messages posted by people seeking companions. This column is still going strong: advertisements claim that ‘hundreds of couples have found love’ or companionship as a result of submitting their profile to the magazine. There was also a supplement aimed at women that was called The Homestead and in this was a page devoted to the interests of young children. This was called Aunt Betty’s Corner. I must have been around five or six when I became a member.

I was very interested in the Corner and it was there that I found addresses for pen-friends – which fed my abiding joy in writing letters. I also loved entering competitions when the opportunity arose. During my primary school years I won about three writing competitions – the prize was usually a postal order for about two shillings. This ‘success’ spurred me on to write ever since – though I don’t earn a cent from it, although ‘scribbling’ gives me a lot of joy.