VENTURING OUT A LITTLE

South Africa is to remain under the Lock-down Level Three restrictions for the foreseeable future. This is a situation we have become used to and which fortunately allows us some freedom of movement. Many, including me, still err on the side of caution and so I have – for many months now – mostly had birds for company when I have tea at home. This is Meneer sampling the scones I had just brought to the outside table – clearly they are not all meant for me!

My socialising has begun by taking little steps, such as visiting a friend – whom I know has been as careful as I have been – for tea. As we have both been vaccinated we are feeling a little bolder. What a pleasure it was to sit in her home with a different view from my own that I have got to know so well since the start of the pandemic!

Later, when we both were feeling even bolder, we lunched together at a local restaurant to celebrate my birthday – months late. Our respective children warned us to be careful … we were the only diners there! Good for us, yet sad for the establishment.

What does one do when ‘stuck at home’ for so long? I finally got round to sorting through books and other items in my study. Boxes that had been filled remained stubbornly in the way, thus spoiling the positive aspect of my occasional bursts of energy. It was time to do something about them … my friend and I felt so virtuous after dropping off our respective boxes at a local charity shop that we decided to have coffee in the garden of a café on our way home – it is incidental that a carrot cake muffin accompanied each of our drinks.

All this socialising has gradually taken place over the past few months. By now we are both feeling much braver – though are still very careful – and so recently took the plunge to visit a mutual friend, who has also been vaccinated. What a glorious afternoon it was too, catching up with each other and setting the world right.

I will not be painting the town red anytime soon, but each of these tentative steps has brought with it a semblance of normality to the strange circumstances we find ourselves in.

PICK ‘N PAY ENGLISH BREAKFAST TEA

I haven’t travelled very far since the COVID-19 pandemic restricted our movements, and then not to places where a variety of tea is sold. My collection of interesting teas is dwindling alarmingly as a result! Every time I purchase groceries I scan the tea shelves in the vain hope that a ‘different from usual’ tea has nestled among the normal offerings. I see that rooibos tea now appears in a wide variety of added flavours … black-based teas remain my favourite brew though and so I was delighted to find the Pick ‘n Pay brand of English Breakfast Tea standing out in its bright red box.

As its name implies, English Breakfast is a full-bodied brew that is just right to pair with breakfast – or in my case, mid-morning tea. It is traditionally a blend of black tea leaves sourced from estates such as those in Kenya, Ceylon or Assam. It is common practice to overlook house brands as being ‘inferior’. Certainly, my eye automatically looks out for labels such as Twinings, Liptons and even Five Roses. I yearned for the robust flavour of English Breakfast tea, however, and wondered if I would be disappointed. Fear not, this house brand of English Breakfast Tea is everything one might wish for.

The strong, more robust flavour of English Breakfast tea goes very well with a light fruit cake – which I happened to bake this week.

In the absence of a variety of teas and brands to choose from, I recommend Pick ‘n Pay’s English Breakfast tea for drinking at any time of the day.

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.

TALK OF THE TOWN

Background:

In 2017 the government of the North West Province proposed erecting a life-size bronze statue of the then President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, along the N4 in the Marico district. It was suggested at the time that the statue would cost in the region of R6 million. Happily, the idea never got off the ground. Nonetheless, for a while the proposal became the …

TALK OF THE TOWN

“What is the world coming to Lelie-kind? One sweet potato cost me R9 at the shop today!” Tannie Anna dropped her overlarge handbag onto the rough wooden table on the veranda of Die Groot Koeksuster. The shade of one of the few surviving withaak trees cast a welcome dark patch on the chair Tannie Anna sank into with an “Oh my legs! Lelie-kind have you ordered the tea?”

She leaned back to catch her breath and watched Felsity crossing the street. Tannie Anna smiled at the bulge in that familiar black bag Felsity had tucked securely under her arm – it was sad that one could no longer let people see the full beauty of one’s handbag anymore. Still, she thought, let no-one tell her that Felsity had been anywhere other than Okkers se Drankwinkel. She knew Felsity well. Why, they used to walk barefoot together to the primary school on the corner. You know, that building that now houses the Chinese shop and where the loan sharks hang out.

“Have you heard the terrible news Anna?” Tannie Bev wiggled her swollen feet out of her town shoes. She was too old to worry what the youngsters thought anymore. Tannie Anna watched her friend plant her shopping bag between her knees as she rummaged through her handbag for a Tums. Tannie Bev suffered from constant indigestion these days.

“Nothing could be worse than the price of vegetables,” she replied. “I paid R9 for a sweet potato this morning. R9 I tell you. There’s not even anyone you can complain to anymore. These fandangled supermarkets are so anonymous these days.”

“No Anna, this is much worse.” Tannie Bev leaned forward to whisper across the table. “There’s a sculpture going up near Groot Marico.”

“It’s about time we had something pretty to look at.” Lelie-kind set down the tea tray. “They’re very slow here today. Where’s Felsity? I thought I saw her outside just now?”

“Why would anyone want to make a statue of Willem Pieterse?” Liesbet pulled up a green plastic chair and immediately bent down to gather the collection of groceries that had fallen out of the plastic Pick ‘n Pay packet. She hoped no-one had seen the row of three Ferrero Rocher chocolates she’d bought. “Willem’s the biggest skelm from here to Bokkombaai. He’s broken every rule book that was ever created. Do you remember how he used to climb out of the window during our arithmetic classes in Standard Two, Lelie-kind?” She leaned across the table. “Willem has poached more animals than you could fit in a zoo. Only last week the police stopped him outside Zeerust. He told them his sheep had the ‘flu and that is why they were wearing jerseys and balaclavas and sitting inside the cab. They let him go.” Liesbet sat back looking dreamy. “Now Willem’s not the most handsome man, but in bronze he could look –“

“No Liesbet, you’re wrong. This statue is going to celebrate the legacy of Jacob Zuma!” Tannie Bev flushed with satisfaction at the impact of her news.

“Zuma!” Wendolina nearly missed her chair when she sat down. Two apples rolled across the cobbled floor of the veranda. Lelie-kind managed to halt their passage of doom before they fell into the gutter that ran into a clump of tattered cannas. It hadn’t rained for months, but one could never tell what lay within that tangle of rubbish caught between the leaves and she was sure it wasn’t only dogs that relieved themselves there.

“My husband says this is going to be a monument to corruption and unemployment!” Karen’s dangly earrings quivered with indignation as she placed the Komorant on the table. “Tender number CATA116/2016,” she read slowly and clearly. “No two ways about it Tannie Anna, the people in this region are going to suffer a disgraceful waste of public money!”

“Whose money?” Felsity limped towards them, her sunhat slightly askew. “Who’s got money to waste?”

“You’ve been buying olive oil again, Felsity.” Tannie Anna eyed the tell-tale bulge in Felsity’s bag.

“Ja, well one cannot be too careful these days.” Was that a blush on Felsity’s cheeks? “You know, Pick ‘n Pay had no basil this morning. I was fingering through all the green stuff saying ‘Basil, basil, where are you basil,’ when the young man unpacking the paw paws tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘Basil only works here Tuesdays and Fridays marram’.”

The women laughed loudly. “Oh Felsity, that could only happen to you!” Tannie Bev shifted her chair to make room for Merilee.

“Hello everyone.” Merilee sank breathlessly into her chair. “Did you know we’re getting a statue of Zuma that will be six metres tall? I’m late because I was talking to Pieter Lombard at the ATM. He told me it is going to be quite life-like.”

The Pensioner’s Tea Club were all present and correct. Merilee had been looking forward to their weekly session of news and chocolate cake. They had all agreed it would be chocolate cake this week. Her eye fell on the Komorant on the table and her face dropped a little. So, they knew after all. Perhaps she shouldn’t have stopped to buy those two koeksusters after all. Her mouth watered at the thought of the sticky brown paper packet hidden in the bottom of her hand bag.

“They say it will be built in Gopane where he was arrested in 1963 by – you know – “Wendolina focused on the hole in the middle of the table from where an umbrella should have been shading them, “the apartheid government.” One couldn’t be too careful these days. She’d read about that Kokkewiet woman who’d been accused of hate speech after complaining about the crowds at Durban beach. Ag, it would be wonderful to see the sea one day. She wondered if the beach would be like those red dunes near Upington.

“Life-like!” Liesbet tucked into her cake, allowing the crumbs to fall as she talked. Felsity couldn’t take her eyes off the thick chocolate icing that clung to Liesbet’s upper lip. “I wonder if they will disguise the statue as a public shower.”

“That money should be spent on creating jobs and opportunities!” Tannie Bev slurped her tea, almost choking on her indignation.

“So typical,” Lelie-kind scraped the icing off her plate with a sound that reminded Tannie Bev rather painfully of those maths classes in Standard Six, when the chalk sound on the board gave her a headache. Hene, she still got a headache even thinking about all those numbers marching across the board with x and y letters tumbling between. “His government is putting the president and the party ahead of the people of the North West!”

“It is an unwarranted waste of public money,” Liesbet agreed, delicately dabbing at her mouth with the flimsy piece of toilet paper that passed for serviettes these days.

“Do you know we have the highest unemployment rate in the country?” Karen had been scanning the upside down newspaper as best she could without using her reading glasses. The figure appeared in bold in a ‘sub-heading’ she thought it was called. “46%” she said triumphantly. “That’s shocking.”

“Liefie, look at all of us.” Tannie Bev squeezed another drop of tea from the small metal tea pot. No cosies anymore and you had to ask for extra hot water. “When were we last employed? Eight old ducks who don’t even qualify for UIF anymore.”

“They must halt this carving.” Gwendolina leaned forward to cover the fact that she was secreting three sachets of sugar in the outside pocket of her handbag. “The money must go towards improving service delivery and the creation of jobs for young people.”

“I agree,” Lelie-kind pulled out her ostrich-skin purse worn smooth with age. “There’s nothing to celebrate about Zuma.” She turned towards Felsity. “Seeing that you can still afford to buy olive oil, Felsity, would you be as kind as to work out what we owe. Tannie Anna made us pay far too much in tips last week.”

“Use my new phone.” Liesbet put her smartphone on the table. “See, it’s got a calculator with big numbers on it.”

“How do you work out ten percent, Karen?” Felsity’s brow was furrowed with concentration.

Members of the Pensioner’s Tea Club pooled the discounts they had got from buying their meagre groceries on Monday mornings. They gathered their bags and packets and shuffled off towards their respective homes, blissfully unaware that the owner of Die Groot Koeksuster, Mr. Leketi, charged them only half price for their weekly splurge.

DON’T BE FOOLED BY THIS TEA

I enjoy black tea in most of its forms and am always eager to try out a new flavour when one appears on the shelves – a rare occurrence here. Vanilla tea is delicious and I am partial to fruit-flavoured teas, providing they have a black tea base. So, the combination of strawberry and vanilla seemed an interesting flavour to try.

The box looks attractive enough. I looked forward to tasting the tea once the groceries were unpacked. The bags are enclosed in a foil packet which exuded a flavoursome aroma of … something. Strawberry? Vanilla? Perhaps it will become evident once brewed.

Mmm … the bags are smaller than the usual tea bag – and the contents so fine that ‘powder’ or ‘dust’ comes to mind.

I steeped the tea for the requisite minutes – not impressed by the insipid looking drink. Checked the ingredients:

Strawberry pieces? Felt a dry teabag between my fingers: not a lump or bump to indicate even a tea leaf, never mind a dehydrated piece of strawberry! Vanilla and vanilla flavouring? Did someone forget to add it to this batch? It is passable as a warm drink; not unpleasant if you are desperately thirsty; but nothing like the flavour described on the box! BST best tea Strawerry & Vanilla Black Tea. There is something fishy about this.

Product of China … I have tasted excellent teas from China. Oh no – remember the Closemeyer Earl Grey tea that stated the contents as ‘Earl Grey tea’? This is the same lot! Oh dear, I have been hoodwinked and am now convinced to give any tea that bears this name on the box a wide berth. This cannot be real tea – it is thin, barely has a taste, and has no aroma of either strawberry or vanilla! Do not be fooled by this tea – avoid it and rather drink coffee if it is your only choice.