Monday, 24 August 2009

Fig tree

Three months ago, just before I moved into the new house, we had a barbeque here. Outside, next to the quail, with 40 years of fig tree towering above us. It was filled with small green figs. I picked one the sticky milk, scratchy little hairs and above all the scent of fresh fig tree transported me to long summer afternoons on the Highveld.

We had two fig trees in our garden, three actually. An ancient tree, probably planted by the ancestors on the small irrigation gully that ran through the garden, was well past it's prime by the time I started noticing trees. The other two were planted later, when I was young, to catch the overflow from the dam. One rewarded us with sweet figs every year, the other grew faster, taller, with large leaves but very few fruit. Finding another tree, half a world away, was a good sign, it made me feel at home.

Sadly, the tree was rarely watered, resulting in tough leathery runts instead of proper figs. And, in the tradition of trees planted close to houses, it discovered our plumbing. So the landlord decided that it had to go.

Two men came this morning, with saws and ropes and tools, and removed it. I fled the house to avoid the trauma. By the time I returned there was a tree-shaped hole in the garden. Lots of new sunlight. But still a hole. And it smelled of fig everywhere.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Bayswater, London

(this was in July, still travelling)

Nobody lives here, people just spend a night, or two. Not more than a week, unless you're unlucky. The roads are filled with people, their luggage scurrying after them on routes from maps that don't make sense. Everyone is a visitor, most of them tourists. Just like us.

Our hotel feels like a thin veneer on a shady underworld of drug smuggling, human trafficking, illegal immigration, exploitation, organ harvesting (yes, I've seen Eastern Promises), mafia, Al Qaeda and the Vatican. We are checked in by young men of Middle-Eastern descent. And a blonde with the type of accent you can only cultivate in a former Soviet Republic. Very friendly, but you can sense that they're not in control.

They direct us to our apartment, it is far, we make complaining noises. So a friend from Turkey is summoned in his taxi to deliver us to a little square. "For you, no charge. But take my card". The stately Georgian facade now hides a warren of apartments, the originals having been stripped bare and sub-sub-subdivided. Small rooms with cheap, but shiny fittings, barely used but already falling apart. The elevator creaks, wobbles and takes 30 seconds to open its doors. Ominous in a building that is otherwise anonymous and silent.

But, late at night, as I'm lying on my uneven sleeper couch next to the open window, I can hear the humming of the city. For a long, special moment, it reminds me of all the other cities I have called home.

Saturday, 1 August 2009


It is raining gently. The soft wetness seems to envelope the town, leaving it quiet and peaceful. It is a productive Saturday. Not in terms of work, but measured by doing those little things that makes this life a better place.

I have a garden now. My baby chives are slowly straightening themselves from the dirt. Rocket too, and hopefully the coriander will follow. It's late in the season, but I'm hoping they'll all provide something before pausing for the winter. I just need a few bright and sunny days.

The housemate (yes, I'm on BB now) and companion are slowly being swept up in the bread making obsession. So lesson number two today. I sit, reading, while they measure, mix and knead. I tell them to relax (Is this a teaspoon of salt? Isn't this too much?), later I poke at the well-kneaded dough, show them how to shape and let it rest. The bread came out well, was extremely gratifying to all involved.

And the radiator, the wall and the wardrobe. No magic adventures here though - a previous occupant thought it wise to "brighten" the room by adding frivolous, some might say arbitrary panels of paint(probably from small containers). So I have a violent blue radiator (yes, blue can be violent), limish yellow and the same stubborn blue on the doors of my wardrobe, and stars and blocks all along one wall. I think a large part of my aesthetic displeasure with the decor is that I need to appropriate the space, make friends with it. And a coat of clear white helps a lot.