On the Beach

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Inspiration in Noordehooek

Yesterday, when the weather was great (let's rather not discuss the weather today, My visiting in-laws went out in long trousers and fleeces), we decided to take a trip to Noordehooek, over the other side.

In Cape Town, when you live in an area, it seems you rarely  leave it, talking about "the other side [of the mountain]" much like you would do Mars or perhaps something in the Twilight Zone that you have heard of, but not personally familiar with. To get your average Capetonian to even contemplate a part of town in which they do not reside is an effort, let alone getting them to go there.

Seeing as we're relatively new, it only took a couple of hours of summoning up all that mental strength to drive up and over Ou Kaapse Weg and find ourselves in Noordehooek. It took around 25 mins from door to beach. Phew.

For those that haven't been, Noordehooek is totally amazing. It feels completely rural, wild and cut off but is only around 35-40 minutes from Cape Town CBD. It is green, lush and quiet with a wide, wide beach stretching off almost as far as you can see. If there are 10 other people on it, you've hit rush hour.

Anyway, all that sun, sea and sand can make a person hungry so we set off in search of a place to feed 3 generations of one family.

We found ourselves at the Red Herring Trading Post on Beach Road in Noordehooek, a stone's throw from the beach. I absolutely love the Red Herring Trading Post. To reach the shops and restaurants in the Red Herring you have to navigate quite thick Milkwood Forest- all the traders are nestled among the branches that form natural jungle gyms for the children. As you emerge from where the Beach Cafe used to be, you get stunning views of the beach and the mountains. Rather like this:

 The Beach Cafe is no longer. It has been replaced by Franieba's Restaurant. It calls itself Cape Malay but the menu is broader than that- there is Cape Curry, Bobotie but also calamari, fish and chips, burger, a selection of salads. The chalkboard  menu definitely had something for everyone  but without being in the league of a small novel.

The setting was beautiful and the service should rather be described as hospitality. The girls had room to roam and were fussed over by the staff. The food arrived and it was exceptional- every dish. The Bobotie was the best we'd ever had, the calamari and the fish fresh and delicious, the chips crispy, the burger mouthwatering. And all beautifully presented. As we stared mournfully as our empty plates (children included, which is nothing short of a miracle), the waitress came over to tell us that there was home-baked lemon meringue pie on offer and that the baked cheesecake had just come out of the oven. The cakes arrived and- really, I am running out of adjectives here- they were amazing. Perfect. Washed down with espresso.

Why am I telling you this? Have I broadened my repertoire to wannabe restaurant critic? What's the big deal, great meals are a dime a dozen in CT, right?

In answer, I'd love to be a restaurant critic but I don't think it would be good for my waistline. Yes, bad meals are hard to find in CT but, even so, this home cooked, professionally served, reasonably priced menu was exceptional..

But the real reason I am telling you this is because Franieba's has an amazing story behind it.

As I chatted to the waitress, she told me she was the chef's daughter. Then she scurried off and returned, proudly presenting me with a laminated newspaper article from the Daily Voice. The restaurant's name is Franieba's- it is a mixture of the 2 owners' names: Francis Phalane and Monieba Moses.

Frances and Monieba are 2 friends from Ocean View (a township on the Southern Peninsula) who have know each other for 18 years, ever since they both worked in the same restaurant in Simons Town.

Monieba is the enviably talented chef, Francis the charming, efficient and ever-vigilant front-of-house.

Monieba was a waitress at The Beach Cafe (which is now Franieba's) but things weren't going well for the onwer. Worried about how she would support her family, she got the idea of opening a restaurant on that site as she'd always dreamed of having. She called her friend Francis who was rather taken aback at the suggestion, as she couldn't imagine getting together R20,000 for the lease.

Anyway, they gathered together every cent they had and got the keys on February 2011. With no money for stock, they took their RCS cards (like credit cards) and bought non-perishable goods and mineral water.

Having no transportation of their own, they got a bus from Ocean View to Long Beach Mall and then walked all the way to Noordehooek- a walk that can easily take an hour- carrying the stock in their arms and on their backs. As public transport can be tricky at 6pm, sometimes they walk all the way home. Today they both have bicycles- although Monieba had an accident and hurt her shoulder, so she's back to walking (but still cooking!)- with which they bring stock to Franieba's.

Today they are debt free (except for what they owe themselves in salary). They employ four people. The first meal they served was pilchard bobotie and since then the menu has grown as I indicated above. They also do takeaway family meals and with enough notice they can make anything you like.

South Africa has not had a good year in the news. The Secrecy Bill, the ANC infighting, Julius Malema's disciplinary hearing, the appointment by the president of a Chief Justice on a whim rather than according to procedure, the toilet issues in Khayelitsha to name a few that come to mind in addition to the constant corruption scandals.

Reading the news, it would be easy to believe that we live in a country of little hope, little ambition and little opportunity

So I wanted to share with you a story of posititivity and success, right under our noses. 2 inspiring, inconceivably hard-working, determined and talented women and their families running a business that deserves to succeed.

If you live in Cape Town or you're visiting, go there. Tell your friends to go there The name is Franieba's Restaurant, Red Herring Trading Post, Beach Rd, Noordehooek, CT. Phone number: 021 789 0122. If you have kids, there's a huge jungle gym in the restaurant itself, in the middle of a Milkwood Tree.

And if you see 2 women walking on Noordehooek Beach or cycling down Noordehooek Rd, carrying impossible amounts of food, give them a hand or just congratulate them for having the guts to make a go of things, of daring to think they can succeed rather than just sitting and moaning that life is not as they wish.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Cape Town's going on a summer holiday....

It's a funny thing, moving from a city that never sleeps, never shuts down like London, to a city that values and insists on downtime, chilling and leisure: Cape Town.

For those that don't know, Cape Town basically shuts down from December 16 (yesterday) to January 15 every year for the holidays. The reason for this, as I understand it, is that in times past, workers used to work far away from home so they almost always stayed where they worked for 11 months and then went home for a month- hence why everything shut down.  It became to traditional to send workers on their way with a "13th pay cheque"- a bonus effectively.

Whilst for most people things have changed and they no longer work hundreds and hundreds of miles from home, some still do and others simply have embraced the tradition for a month off. The 13th pay cheque? Well, that depends on your employer these days.

As a result the the beginning of December is a very funny time in Cape Town. The city and its people are not certain whether they want to speed up and get things done by December 15th or whether the year has just made them tired and, frankly, they want to avoid doing work until December 15th (and therefore actually, January 15th).  So, depending on who you deal with you'll either be enveloped by a flurry of frightening efficiency or be tearing your hair out in rage as despair as you realise that the unreturned calls and wall of silence mean that you will have no doors on your kitchen cupboards until people get into the groove in January. Let's just hope the Christmas guests will think it's a style statement.

Please don't assume that it is just manual workers that have this attitude. During a conversation with an eminent and highly professional attorney last week, it became abundantly clear that nothing was going to happen until he came back "early" on January 9th. Wow, man, don't push yourself too hard.

Apart from retailers, no one does any business in Cape Town after December 15th. And, what the strangest thing for me is, no one WANTS to or expects to.The "Bottom Line" is set aside for a month and people just enjoy relaxing.  Between Christmas and New Year, the vast majority of offices are simply closed and for the rest of "holidays" there is skeleton staff. As someone whose (sort of) career was mostly set in the City of London, this is frankly weird. Relax for a month? Even a week? Are you serious?

Why the date of the 16th? Well, why ever not?! OK, seriously it's because the 16th is a public holiday (It's Reconciliation Day- bringing together a date that is of significance to both Afrikaaners and the liberation struggle) and it is generally a week or so after the schools break up ie the kids have time to get over the tiredness that the final school term has inflicted on them and get excited about going away.

And so it was yesterday, December 16th, that the holidays began. It had been a nerve-wracking time for the weather obsessed Capetonians as we had had a day and a half of solid rain earlier this week.

 That rain was also a source of deep personal embarrassment to my husband I, having raved on to his parents about the weather and poo-poo'd their bringing out waterproofs. It's their first time here and for a few days it was reminiscent of an English summer. Cringe.Bad marketing, Cape Town, bad marketing.

For the moment, summer seems back on track and yesterday we hit road, along with the rest of Cape Town.  Heading out of town on the N2, there was a spirit of communal holiday, a sense of throwing caution to the wind as (terribly driven) cars, with roof racks, bike racks and trailers full to the brim of all the things that make a holiday, queued up in petrol stations.

On our day trip to Hermanus we passed cars with canoes on their roofs,cars trailing huge boats, fishing rods poking up and glistening in the sunshine as dogs stuck their heads out the windows (why do they DO that?).

Coming back, gliding down over Sir Lowry's pass in the late afternoon sun, False Bay gleamed golden and the mountains, slightly misty looked pleasantly exhausted from their first day of the holidays.

I would say that I'm really looking forward to a month off, but as a mother of 2 small kids, I think to say that would be a laughable statement, frankly bordering on fantasy.

Still, there are many worse ways to spend your time than beach hopping for a month- here's to the holidays!

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Parenthood, some thoughts

Today, my 2.5 year old told me that if I was squashed, she'd have to buy a new mummy. When I asked what kind of mummy, she replied- after some thought- that it would be a talking mummy. A robot talking mummy. Later she said that she liked me and didn't want me to get squashed.

Prior to this exchange- which, as her mother, I found adorable, funny and perplexing- she had thrown, if not the mother of all all tantrums, then certainly a close relative of the mother's of all tantrums. This was because I refused to let her decant her Smarties into a small bowl for the purpose of a car journey. This interaction, as a contrast, I had found futile, frustrating and infuriating. I defy any parent of any 2 year old to name anything more enraging than a pique of temper which seems to have no point to it other than to delay your arrival to wherever you were supposed to go. A tiny person can be so incredibly unreasonable that it just makes you see red.

I am sure plenty will read the above with horror, thinking that poor child, they don't know, they're just asserting their "little personality". Trust me, as my ears bleed from the shrieks there is nothing little about her (apart from the size of the eyes, which vanish, in contrast to the mouth which somehow becomes cavernous and vast- like the entrance to hell). It's times like that show the need for freely available intravenous alcohol.

And I got to thinking that, actually, my half hour experience of my little girl which consisted of the best and the worst of her, is somehow a metaphor for parenthood generally.

Parenthood can be the most wonderful, exhilarating feeling in the world- the immense love you feel for them, the surge of pride as they sing (badly) in their first nativity play, the mixed sense of relief, love and loss as they strut off to school for the first time looking ridiculously tiny but so grown up all at once. Then on the down of the roller-coaster, a few seconds, minutes or hours later, you feel frustration and anger as they don't listen, they booby trap your house with Lego, refuse the dinner you spent hours making, "decorate" your favourite shirt or slap their sibling accidentally by hurling a giant stuffed toy across a room.

When my first child was born, people kept saying "it'll get easier". And I suppose it did. I got to sleep more, she cried less and she becomes more and more rewarding all the time. And then, not too long after, her sister was born: "it'll get easier" people said again. Well, that getting easier took a bit longer than the first one as for a while they enjoyed doing crying, sickness and bad behaviour relays. Now, I must say at the ripe old ages of 2.5 and 4.5, it is much easier. They (mostly) adore one another, they play well together, they can both tell me what's wrong. All that horrid unexplained crying, accompanied by fevers is, largely, a thing of the past.

But has parenthood got any easier per se? Not at all. In some respects it is becoming so much harder.

I remember my mum and dad saying: " Small child, small problem. Big child, BIG problem".

Whereas before I could stop my eldest daughter crying by giving her Calpol, food, drink, the toy she had been screaming for or a hug, now it's not so easy. She's at school, she's in the big wide world and problems are not so easy for mummy to solve, try as I might. Friend politics, playground politics, not wanting to go to school because she's tired. The big wide world is creeping up on a growing person that used to be my baby girl and I am not sure who is more petrified her- or me. Trying to explain the world, people, human behaviour, religion- you name it is only going to get harder and harder.  Soon, I'll have 2 of them at large in the world, away from the protection of home.

I have enormous respect for my parents who brought up 2 children, alone in the world, away from their families. Somehow we turned out OK. But, my poor parents- their job is still not done. At the ripe old age of 36, whenever the world seems unfair I still go running to mummy and daddy who mercifully still take my calls.

I have a feeling that this parenting business is a rather long term affair- which actually delights me. I just have to hope that the medicinal power of a big hug is as effective later as it is now, because sometimes-even now- I don't really have any answer apart from that.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Feeling "Christmassy" down south

It is my second adult Christmas in South Africa and it still feels weird. By that I mean that Christmas here is not as a northern European would know it.

I think is partly because the northern hemisphere somehow has managed to exert a monopoly on what exactly Christmas is and should be.

Let me explain: Christmas in western culture is very much celebrated as  "festival of lights" in dark, cold times- think of all the candles, Christmas tree light, (hideous) house lights. Christmas decorations are snowflakes, Father Christmas is always very warmly dressed as he strides over a snow-topped roof, pictures of snowmen in the background. In the northern hemisphere, we need twinkling lights, cosy fires and nice thoughts of Santa to get us through very short, often dark days which can be rather nippy. I don't think it is any coincidence that Christmas is in the middle of winter, at a similar time to the pagan festival of light. As people we need something to get us through: for the religious it is the celebration of the birth of Christ. For  the more secular of the population, it's a time to enjoy the lights and the fires and get together with your nearest and dearest over a feast of food and drink, to exchange gifts and defeat the cold and dark, chatting with friends and family in a room of twinkling lights, while the mantlepiece overflows with cards with pictures of Santa, angels, the nativity scene and robins in snow.

Presents are a big feature of Christmas, at least for the shorter members of the population and the retail and consumer industry are very happy to help us to spend our money whether or not we have it. To be fair, on the other side of the planet when the weather sucks, it's one of the few things that you can do. Plus can you IMAGINE the drama if little Chardonnay didn't get the Bratz doll collection from Santa? OMG. It'd be enough to make her mum's spray tan fade.

Personally, I have always loved Christmas. As an expat from a very young age, my parents always ensured that we were all together at that one time of year and, thanks to my mum and dad, we kept our Christmas traditions alive wherever we were, and I am so grateful for that. For me, Christmas is about being with my family, just enjoying being together. I have some serious issues with the commercialisation and hijacking by retailers of Christmas (which would probably fill a significant portion of Wikipedia, so I'll keep my comments brief). My objections and rantings are probably best summed up by describing the Christmas lights on Oxford Street maybe ten years ago: "Captain Birdseye Wishes you a Merry Christmas". How festive.

So here I am, December 3rd 2011 and I really do not feel terribly "Christmassy" at all. The sun is shining, the days are nearly the longest they can be and I fear that Father Christmas would be rather sweaty unless he underwent a radical seasonal wardrobe change.

Don't we have lights here? Well, yes we do. The shopping centres are full of beautifully decorated and twinkling trees. You have to look really veryhard to see the twinkles because of the blazing sunshine powering through the doors, windows and skylights rather makes them difficult to see.  My youngest daughter became fascinated with some snowflake decorations and fiddled with them wearing shorts and a sunhat. I bought some wrapping paper with snowmen in scarves. And it looked odd as I put it into the car with the hot sun beating down on me.

The school opposite my house had their Christmas concert last week singing all the traditional Christmas songs. The difference? The concert was outside and the parents watched from picnic blankets, sipping rose wine and wearing sunglasses. "Moves like Jagger" by Maroon 5 would have been more fitting as a soundtrack, I think.

For someone who has spent most of their life in the northern hemisphere this is all very confusing. It's like the calendar has gone mad and everything is upside down. The most Christmassy I have felt so far was when I went to a hypermarket to buy a swimming pool and a Christmas tree (see??? what a weird combination!). It was quite dark and the displays were all lights, baubles and trees. Not forgetting the Christmas songs sung in Afrikaans. Actually, I must have been really desperate as I must confess to not find it the most soothing and appealing of languages. Sorry. It sounds like a Dutch person gargling to me. Just being honest. Sorry. If it makes you feel better, the other languages I prefer not to be sung to in: are Dutch, German, Flemish, Vietnamese and Mandarin. You're not alone in being excluded from my CD collection.

What I find most fascinating about this is the fact that that the northern hemisphere has someone managed to export their version of Christmas wholesale to the sunny southern hemisphere. I know they exported  Christ and Christmas in the first place. But it's like the "vision" came with it. Maybe it's "for the kids".

Since moving to Cape Town, I have realised that most South Africans are much more religious than people in the UK so I suspect there will be a lot more "Christ" in Christmas here.

All the food and travel literature seems to talk of Christmas braais, Christmas cocktails, Christmas ice cream  (merciful absence of turkey and Christmas pudding so far) and Christmas day on the beach which gives me hope that the folk down south will make Christmas their own.

While there is a part of me that misses the lights and the cosiness of Christmas in the northern hemisphere, I know that's pure nostalgia and sentimentality.

I'd rather be applying sunscreen.