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!

 

TRAVEL BY ANY MEANS

We can all walk – travelling by Shanks’s Pony it is called – which is a wonderful way of exploring an area, watching birds, looking out for plants, and – if you are fortunate – animals. I was walking alone in the bushveld when I happened upon this waterbuck – truly a special moment.

The desire to move faster and be more mobile is strong. So it is that one of the first modes of transport children get to master is riding a bicycle.

I used to long for a bicycle and was delighted when I was allowed to use the ‘farm bike’ when we stayed on the family farm for extended periods while I was in primary school. This was a heavy, men’s bicycle (with a cross bar) which was far too large for me to ride whilst sitting on the saddle so I rode standing up, with one leg through the cross bar – not the most comfortable position, yet it gave me the freedom to cycle around the farm and later to explore the dirt road that led to the farm. The wind in my hair, the dust on my face, the sheer wonder of being able to cover distances faster than I could walk made up for any awkwardness of posture. Speaking of dirt roads, they conjure up images of ‘the road less travelled’ and exciting expectations of out-of-the-way places. I think this picture sums up the anticipation that dirt roads bring.

Looking up at a vapour trail in the sky can create a yearning for travelling ever further and faster.

Whether one is flying between cities in South Africa or to continents far away, the sight of aeroplanes parked on runways takes the desire to travel up a level – the possibilities are endless.

 

JUST AROUND THE CORNER

According to the National Roads Agency the total proclaimed roads in South Africa cover approximately 535 000 km, then there are 366 872 km of non-urban roads and 168 000 km of urban roads. This doesn’t take farm roads into account. The Kruger National Park alone has a road network of about 1 800 km and there are several National Parks and nature reserves. This means there are a lot of roads to explore! South Africa is a country where there is bound to be something interesting ‘just around the corner’. The Franschhoek Pass in the Western Cape is such an example.

Beautiful flowers take root in the smallest of niches on the rocky sides of the pass.

Each corner opens up another vista.

More attractive flowers growing on the verge.

Looking down the way we have travelled.

There are folded mountains to wonder at.

With more folding bearing witness to a more tumultuous geological past.

 

RELICS OF A FARMING PAST

Farming is an obvious way for early inhabitants moving into an area to make a living off the ‘untamed’ land and it was no different in this country. Different people choose their own ways to utilise the land: some we could call free roaming pastoralists, who move their animals according to where the grazing and water is best, whilst laying claim to a property and fencing it in is best for others. This reminds me of the westerns I read while growing up in which there always seemed to be a conflict between the cowboys and the increasing number of sheep farmers – the latter were always associated with fences. This pattern of settlement has probably played itself out in many countries. Our visit to the Ciskei area reveals relics of similar conflicting ideas of landuse.

Early farmers in the Eastern Cape would use Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) to make their fencing posts to demarcate their farms and protect their stock. Ptaeroxylon comes from a Greek word meaning sneeze and wood; obliquum refers to the oblique leaflets of the tree. I have written about these fences before as I am in awe of the fact that so many of these Sneezewood fence posts still remain well after more than a century. These bear testimony to the hardness and durability of the wood, which is also termite-resistant.

When the Ciskei was declared a ‘homeland’ in 1972, private farms were turned into communal grazing areas. Many of the existing fences were removed and the wood used for other purposes. The photograph above shows the relic of one such fence. Near it is another relic of farming that is no longer used in this area: a cattle grid.

As you can see, there are cattle grazing in the open – the low fencing you see in the background is that of the public road – with no restrictions. There is no longer either a fence or a farm gate to keep the cattle within the confines of a designated grazing area. A young tree is pushing its way through the heavy metal grid and the earth on one side has worn away over the past thirty odd years. There may even come a time when people might wonder what this strange contraption is. I wonder what will happen to the tree.

NOBEL SQUARE

Visitors to the V & A Waterfront in Cape Town cannot miss these larger-than-life bronze sculptures of the South African recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize:

Such is the popularity of Nobel Square that it is difficult to photograph the four icons without getting people in the way. I had to leave out the late Nkosi Albert Luthuli on the left as there were so many visitors crowding around his statue. The ones shown are former Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu (1984), former State President FW de Klerk and former President Nelson Mandela (both 1993). These statues were designed and created by South African artist Claudette Schreuders.

A BUSHVELD BREAKFAST

Although it is over a month ago, memories of the breakfast after we had celebrated what would have been my mother’s centenary still linger. From the first cup of tea as the sun was rising:

Pots were already warming up next to the fire which had been lit earlier:

Meanwhile, a fire was already warming the oven for freshly baked bread – so delicious when spread with butter while the slices are still steaming:

I steal a portion of fried onions before the finely chopped meat left over from the night before and eggs are added:

Thick potato skins left from having prepared the roasted potatoes are quickly deep fried:

Excellent additions were mushrooms and baked beans, of course:

While not my cup of tea, others enjoyed the marrow bones that had not been eaten the evening before:

Breakfast was a peaceful interlude before the process of packing and tidying up began; before we bid farewell to each other and dispersed to our scattered homes.

TRAVELLING IS ENRICHING

Travelling is enriching, enlightening and broadens our understanding of the world we live in. We tend to equate travel with seeing spectacular views, interesting birds and buildings, or unusual animals; what about this large ant seen along the path while I was walking in the Hottentot-Holland Mountains in the Western Cape?

Look at the angle at which this tree is growing, bent by the prevailing winds along the Western Cape coast.

It is from the Adam’s Krantz viewpoint in the Great Fish River Nature Reserve in the Eastern Cape that one gets a spectacular view of the Fish River way below.

A brick-lined oven can still be seen in the scant remains of Fort Willshire in the Amathole District of the Eastern Cape.

On a private farm about 40km from Grahamstown, one can find the site known as the Clay Pits, a source of red, yellow and white clay that used to be used by isiXhosa-speaking clans on both sides of the Fish River for cosmetic, decorative and ritual uses.

There are always interesting things to discover without necessarily travelling very far.