TEA AND SCONES

Tea and scones are a common request. What is not common is how your tea and scones will be presented. At some establishments you may have to remove your soggy tea bag from the cup yourself; you might be given a tiny teapot with no access to hot water to top it up; or you may simply be presented with your ready-made cup of tea and a minute jug of milk.

The scones can vary too, from over large crumbly ones to small, rather mingy looking ones. I have been served open scones already spread with jam and a dollop of cream; scones with separate small packaged squares of butter and jam that need to be peeled open; cold scones; warm scones that have clearly been warmed in a microwave straight from a freezer; scones accompanied with butter that is so hard it is un-spreadable.

Tea and scones might be a commonly requested refreshment, but the expectation one might have is not always matched with the reality. This archive photograph is a reminder of a time when the reality far exceeded our expectations:

We had wanted to break a long journey and stretch our legs and so ordered tea and scones for three. As we had confirmed that we all wanted the same tea, it arrived in a large pot. What a pleasant surprise: the scones were of a generous size, the butter balls were soft enough to spread easily, and the quantities of jam, cream and grated cheese were generous. So was the jug of milk. Notice the quilted cover for the handle of the tea pot too.

These factors combined to turn what might have been an ordinary stop along the way into a memorable occasion. It was a delight to sit back and enjoy perfectly warm scones along with piping hot tea. The scones were firm enough to hold their toppings, yet light and filling – just right for peckish travellers. Our teapot was topped up with boiling water so that we all ended up having two cups – such a refreshing break it turned out to be!

 

WATER

You can probably recall the lines from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that read:

Water, water everywhere

Nor any drop to drink

While this is a reference to being surrounded by sea water with no fresh water at hand, it serves as a reminder of how precious water is to all living things.  As so many of us are landlubbers, South Africans enjoy seaside holidays. This is utilising the water for recreation. What is of more concern is the availability of water for drinking.

I mention our ongoing drought so often, yet water is the lifeblood we all need. I have several bird baths in the garden which I keep filled daily for the use of birds, the visiting mongoose, bees, wasps and anything else which requires it. Here an Olive Thrush enjoys a drink on a hot day.

Rain is something we long for daily. We watch the ten day weather forecasts and greet each other with the news of rain coming over the next few days … only to see those rainy icons disappear just as the sun draws the moisture from the laundry, until there is nothing left. This picture was taken two years ago. The lemon tree is barely surviving now.

In most parts of the country we have forgotten what flooded rivers look like – this photograph was taken five years ago.

The availability of clean, fresh water is currently being denied to many of our citizens – not only because of the drought but because not enough has been done to care for the water resources that we have. In our town alone a lot of water is wasted through leaks that are ignored for months; water courses being choked by alien vegetation and rubbish – not to mention the pollution of some of the streams.

Water is life and is a commodity that needs to be taken care of to the utmost of our collective ability.

THE PROBLEM WITH ORT

There ought not to be a problem with ort, but, during my childhood years nothing went to waste – certainly not food! We grew our own vegetables, kept a few chickens, and had ‘no-frills’ meals by today’s standards. Meat was considered a staple part of the main meal so we had it in one form or another almost every day – except Fridays, when fish made its way to the table (a dubious choice when one lives far from water, either fresh or salty) in those days. My mother turned the cheapest cuts of meat into stews or made them more palatable by mincing the meat to make either meatballs or cottage pie – even better, to make curry.

Nothing was to be wasted and so we were expected to eat everything on our plate: no ort was to be left. I disliked the taste of meat from a very early age. Steak and kidney pie was anathema to me – an awkward position to be in when surrounded by a family of carnivores!

My father would often cast his eyes over our plates before they were gathered to take through to the kitchen. “Eat your peas,” he would admonish one or other of us; “Finish your potato.” He disapproved of any orts left on a plate. Fortunately, my mother was more tolerant.

More often than not I would be the first to offer to clear the plates; gather them with alacrity and bear them down the passage to the kitchen. There I would quickly scrape the few orts of supper from my plate into a bowl for our dog to eat.

Gem squash was usually served in the skin. If they were young enough, the skin was edible. If the skin had already hardened to a shell, we were expected to scoop out the flesh and leave the shells on our plates. I found the upside down shells a useful place to hide the kidneys once I had managed to chew and swallow the cubes of beef.

I frequently got away with this. Sometimes though, I would be on the verge of gathering the plates when my father would lean across the table and flip over my gem squash shell with his knife to reveal the congealed kidneys concealed underneath! To my chagrin, I would have to remain at the table until they had all been consumed. It took a while for me to learn the art of swallowing them whole to get rid of them quickly without having to taste them or feel their texture.

From early childhood I knew that there would never be a problem with orts in my family!

NOTE: Ort is a useful word I came across recently, meaning a scrap of food left after a meal.

COPPERY COPPICE

In keeping with doing whatever can be done to save water, the municipality had a number of large Eucalyptus trees cut down that were growing on the lawn at the entrance to our town. It was awful seeing – and hearing – these tall trees coming down, yet it is well known that they draw on a lot of subterranean water. They had to go. It has taken a long time to get used to a treeless place that casts no shade on hot days. Several indigenous trees were planted to take their place. All good – except that the young, unprotected saplings, have all been eaten by the various members of the Urban Herd that wander through to sample what is left of the lawn. Not one of those saplings have survived. There are a few large weathered logs that defied the chainsaws and were too heavy to move and a few lifeless stumps of the once tall trees. Lifeless?

Nature has its own way of fighting back!

A MATTER OF PERCEPTION

Three people witness the same accident. Having interviewed them, the police find they have three very different statements. Were these three witnessing the same accident? Yes, but they happened to be in three very different positions and each saw the accident happen from a different perspective. And so it was with a large fire outside town recently:

While driving along the N2, one could be forgiven for thinking that the 1820 Settler Monument was ablaze. Turn onto a side road and the smoke from the fire appeared in a different place:

It looks fairly benign from this perspective – although NO fire can be considered benign in these tinder dry conditions. Driving a little further along the same road, one can see that the fire seems anything but benign:

It is all a matter of perspective.

HUNTING DOGS

Do not for a moment think you are going to see uniformed riders and a pack of well-trained dogs charging after the scent of a fox … we are in South Africa and on the outskirts of small towns and villages after all. Below is a typical scene of a group of young boys with their pack of hunting dogs. Fortunately the private nature reserve they are passing is well fenced, but there is a large commonage on the opposite side of the road where it is possible that they had been combing the veld for any kind of edible prey such as scrub hares or small antelope.

This type of hunting in search for meat has traditionally been undertaken in rural areas for generations. From certain perspectives, such hunting can be viewed as poaching as there is no control over the type of animals that are hunted down in this way – or where hunting takes place. Another concern expressed by the general public is how well these animals are cared for as many tend to look rather emaciated: do they have sufficient access to water, food and proper shelter, for example?

The dog in the photograph below looks to be in a reasonable condition. It separated from the pack it was with, circled back, and stood absolutely still, watching me closely while I was walking around the area of Chief Maqoma’s Grave in the Ciskei. I found this an eerie experience for, after several minutes, the dog disappeared as silently as it had appeared. I caught sight of it a short while later while disappearing among the shrubbery in the company of the rest of the dogs.

I mentioned earlier that many of these dogs tend to look rather emaciated, yet there are so many of them all over South Africa that look similar despite varying in colour. The opening words of an article about dogs like this provides a very different perspective: They’ve been dismissed as street dogs, mongrels, ‘township dogs’ – and worse. But as a breed they are smart, tough, athletic, loyal and ancient. They are the Africanis, the dog of Africa. You can read about them at https://southafrica-info.com/arts-culture/africanis_original_dog_africa/. A detailed description of this recognised breed can be read at https://www.kusa.co.za/index.php/documents/breed-standards/emerging-breeds/1309-africanis-2.

This small pack of dogs were seen with their adult owners along a road on the fringes of our town.

A SPRINGBOK …

… that is no more.

The SADF livery introduced in 1958 was a leaping Springbok inside the outline of the Castle of Good Hope. It has been replaced with a golden African Fish Eagle clutching a laurel wreath in its claws. On it is the motto PER ASPERA AS ASTRA – “Through Adversity to the Stars”.