AN AUSTRALIAN EXPERIENCE: January 2006

The bean that binds...

One of the things I do love about this country is how organised it is- particularly in regards to its love of coffee. Coffee even has its own language here, which I have yet to master. You see, at the time of writing, it has been almost a year since I left my home of forty years in Africa to became a permanent resident of an even more ancient continent. I do occasionally pine for that wild freedom of chaos which characterised the life in Africa I gave up to come here. In the deep dark recesses of the night I sometimes lie awake and ponder what I fear more; the overt lawlessness of Africa...or the rigorous regulation of Australia. Sometimes I am driven from my bed and tread softly down somebody else's stairs in a rented house, seeking solace by getting to the bottom of a cup of coffee.

Early this year, I discovered a new facet to the gem called Sydney-  that part of it which is only accessible by boat or with a very determined pair of feet. There is an inherent ancient timelessness, an otherworldliness to be found in the vast wilderness areas of Australia, and I felt privileged indeed to have a rare opportunity to experience it from the comfort of a new friends' little fishing boat. As we launched his boat in the darkness of Appletree Bay, we were all sworn to secrecy regarding the proprietary fishing holes our host was about to share with us. 

We skated out over thick black water, with only a floating red or green will-o-whisp of a light by which to navigate. As dawn began to faintly outline the shore and, more importantly, the natural signs of what the fish were doing beneath us, we began to throw in a hopeful line or two. There were no takers, so we cruised over to Refuge Bay- the equivalent of suburbia on water. Here, the mundane suburban task of putting out the trash consisted of a trip from your yacht in the Tinny to a convenient dustbin barge to find your personal floating bin in one of two neat little rows. Evidently, Pittwater Council rules the waves around here. 

With the help of technology, in the form of our friend's 'fish finder,' we moved on to moor precisely over a very special fishing hole where bites and catches came in quick and fast to be expertly measured, assessed and either thrown onto ice for dinner, despatched as bait, or thrown back into the water to do some more growing. We were so busy that we almost forgot to drink a flask of coffee and eat the egg sandwiches I had hastily thrown together late the night before. Thereafter, lulled by the gentle rocking of water, I soaked up a peace which had evaded me for too long. My senses became acutely receptive to the concert of dawn; its gentle fingers of morning light extending through creeks and cliffs and bays, slowly bringing out the panoramic surroundings of Broken Bay into sharp relief and with it, a clear invitation to step through the door into a new life. 

The sun climbed in the sky, the esky filled with fish, so we pulled up the anchor and began to look for a place to swim. We investigated intimate little beaches like Hungry Bay where wild Goannas strode lazily amongst brightly-clad mums and children belonging to yachts moored within swimming distance. While looking for a less popular place to swim, our friend idly pointed out 'the Cappuchino Cat,' buzzing busily from yacht to yacht like a little red bee in a garden of white flowers floating upon a blue green sky. 

I startled everyone by laughing like a Hyena at this idyllic scene of Aussie heaven. I laughed until it hurt because to me, the Cappuchino Cat. seemed so out of place in this wilderness that it was just like all the stories of Colonial Africa I had heard; where devoutly English gentlemen insisted upon wearing top hat and tails whilst being paddled along in a dugout canoe upon the Okavango. Except now, I was seeing it for real. Wiping my eyes and finally restraining myself, I managed to keep a straight face while I ordered a Cappuchino from the cheerful, bobbing cafe of home comforts which quickly drew alongside our boat at the mere flick of my friend's hand. 

Sip by gentle sip Australia is becoming my reality, although I have yet to see the point of a take away cup from Gloria Jeans, apart from it being a fashion statement at the ladies' groups I have joined. Here, Cultural Philistines such as I are perfectly happy to mix a delicious (and free) coffee between a teaspoon, an urn and a tin of Nescafe. My assimilation into Australian society is a work in progress. Amazing to think a humble bean could be the thread that binds it all together. 


A SOUTH AFRICAN EXPERIENCE: January 1999

Mountain biking into the Millennium.

Ominous clouds loomed on the horizon and I wasn't too sure if it was a good time to go out riding. However, it was a rare window of opportunity for my husband and I to ride together. With a terrible 'twoser' and an eight month-old, we now have to take turns at alternating babysitting with riding- one of the consequences of being a dual-enthusiast home! Anyway, the storm seemed far enough away to get an hours' ride in, so off we went, accompanied by the distant boom of thunder and flickers of lightening. 

About 15 minutes into our ride the wind started to get stronger and I began to get a nagging feeling in the back of my helmet. If I had been alone, I would have turned back. However, I was enjoying my husband's company and besides, it was one of those unique Highveld late summer afternoon conditions, where the sky and surroundings are a contradiction of black, brooding clouds and bright sunshine with blue sky. Everything around us was clearly bathed in a golden light and any hint of air pollution was blown away by the wind. Further and further we rode from our home in Randpark Ridge to a favourite piece of offroad real estate, one of the last natural environments left sandwiched between the Hendrik Potgieter Highway and the semi-rural suburb of Honeydew, bisected by Wilgespruit. I have ridden there may times, but Herman decided to take a different path. It was as if I had never been there before. Each side of the singletrack was lined with lovely yellow flowers, which were now positively gleaming in the golden light. The greens of of Little Falls Poort up ahead, the passing forest of indigenous Protea trees and the long African grass was screaming with colour and pulsing with life- all of it offset against a now midnight blue black of the approaching tempest. 

We hurtled down to the spruit and I just knew Herman was going to take a nasty, gnarly drop-off that only he can ride. I hesitated on the edge, a bad move in mountain biking, and ended up getting myself impaled upon an overhanging branch! From there we glided through a verdant veggie tunnel lining the banks of the spruit, with Guinea Fowl running ahead of us before exploding into flight. Now it was time to climb back up the hill from the spruit. The sun was still warm on our faces and evidently the rocks along the jeep track were too, as we surprised a snake sunning himself, and he rushed off into the grass. It was then that Herman started talking about living for the moment and I realised that I had forgotten my fears about the storm which was now directly overhead, blocking out the sun. 

By the time we reached Honeydew, there was only a light drizzle and we thought that the storm had blown itself out in honour of our ride. Legs spinning happily, we crested the final hill at the intersection of Blueberry Street and DF Malan Drive... and then we saw that part of the storm concealed on our ride, coming up the road toward us in a veritable wall of water. We embraced the downpour as it engulfed and went straight through us in the opposite direction. Exhilarated, we flew down the final roll home, laughing at the incredulous stares of rush-hour motorists as pelting rain stung skin and eyes. 

On the left are two favourite samples of my writing abilities...

In a past life I had in South Africa, I used to own and edit a bicycle magazine called 'RIDE.' This honed my writing and editing abilities and resulted in my becoming a published author of four books. 

Although attached to a QWERTY keyboard, thanks to having a school teacher mum I've also got lovely handwriting which I use in my illustrations. It has also been commissioned and scanned in to enhance other people's products and artwork...