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Archive for the tag “Melville”

Charting the moments

(Upfront: with grateful thanks to Heather Costaras for all the photos, as discussed. Check her out here.

When you are the parents of two little boys under eight, time to fraternise with your partner and have a really good, meaningful conversation – preferably involving a bottle of good wine and truly ‘chewing the fat’ – can be a rare and precious thing.

This is why Frank and I are eternally grateful to the clever people who opened what we call ‘the B place’. B stands for ‘Bambanani’ and it’s a place in Melville, close to where we live, where both children and adults can be happy. The children can play safely in a variety of innovative ways, with or without caregivers in the mix depending on their ages, while their parents can enjoy good food and decent beverages (at decent prices) while enjoying some precious moments of adult conversation and ‘time out’.

It’s licensed to please.

Bambanani coffee bar

We were spending some time at the B place recently (so-named for the days when we would discuss going there in code, and the children wouldn’t cotton on if we changed our minds) when I suddenly realised, with a little shock, that we could actually chart our children’s ages and progress by where we habitually sit in the restaurant.

There we were, Frank and I, with our children off elsewhere having fun (together, and without us). We were sharing our regular bottle of excellent dry rosé outside on the upstairs deck, which overlooks both the main play area and the downstairs deck, and is roughly bisected by a large apricot tree. It’s a nice touch – the wooden deck has been built around the tree, which is whimsically and atmospherically hung with translucent glass balls. Get up carelessly and you are liable to bang your head on its low-hanging branches, but somehow nobody ever seems to mind that much. Off to the left, another, much bigger tree offers shade to the clientele in the bottom area and from above, you can watch the busy sparrows flying and squabbling in the leaves.

At that moment, it was good to be back on the deck and watch the birds flying through the skies of dusk, because throughout the winter, and into the beginnings of a quite wet summer, we had mainly been weather-bound during our visits and forced to sit inside.

From my elevated view from the upstairs deck, I found myself looking out over the bottom-most level to where the more anxious parents of babies and toddlers tend to congregate for the baby- and toddler-friendly facilities and services. Although the child-minders habitually offer excellent care, the bottom level does tend to ring out sometimes to shrieks and howls of baby outrage and tiredness: those little bumps and bruises will happen, or perhaps other, bigger toddlers will try to steal a toy upon which a baby’s heart is determinedly set.

Bambanani bottom area and deck

It’s a mini-jungle, the bottom area, filled with little cubs and potentially growling parents ever-ready to spring up from their chairs. (Do not go there if you are not associated with a little cub at the time.)

And that’s precisely where we had Matthew’s second birthday party, when he was just a little cub and Liam not much bigger. Frank and I were then habitual guests of the bottom area. It was our spot. At that stage, we had been regular visitors to Bambanani (still quite newly opened) for perhaps six to eight months. Liam, then aged four-and-a-bit on Matthew’s birthday, was now a veteran of the bottom area’s play places and starting to venture into the hallowed spaces of the bigger kids’ wonderful climbing frame area. It was a wrench, watching those first shaky little steps towards independence, but it was okay because Frank and I were right there, down below, and alert to his every call – should it come.

Yes, indeed, we were at the time the archetypal parents of the bottom area. We belonged there. It was our Bambanani ‘hood’.

Bambanani climbing area and top deck

Then Matthew also started trying to enter the big kids’ territory on the climbing frame, not quite a year later. We tried, half-heartedly, to hold him back a bit, but he was following his older brother and that big climbing frame was full of enticing nooks and crannies exclusive to the children (no grown ups allowed, except of course in times when little people suddenly felt a bit overwhelmed and starting yelling for assistance).

It was extremely heady stuff to try and fight as over-anxious parents, so we gave them both their freedom in this small yet significant manner and we moved from our little ‘hood’, suddenly yet quietly one day, to the upstairs deck.

It was a moment that slipped past us with very little pomp and ceremony. All we noticed at the time was that we could now see our boys almost at eye level on the climbing frame as they whizzed past us on level three; that we looked up to them on level four, the top-most level; and that when they slid down the slippery slide from level two to the ground level, we had to peer over the banister to the bottom to find them cheerily waving up at us before they began the ascent once more.

We were slightly anxious, those first few times, but we were proud.

We didn’t hear time moving us inexorably and necessarily into a new phase of parenting. I now know that it’s not just about when the nappies are no longer required, or when bottles are replaced with sippy cups. Some moments are more subtle and, in retrospect, perhaps more significant.

The next big move began when the B place did a renovation early one year. Having endured their annual closure from late December to early January, we arrived back one new year to find a brand-new TV room, complete with updated video games.

Bambanani TV room

Hrmmm. We contemplated this for a few seconds, having to date been a bit anti video games for our children – although we knew it was coming. An avid reader throughout my life, I am quite useless at video games. This was true even when I was a child, but today especially I do know that Frank and I need to let our own children stay current with the popular culture of the times, or risk being isolated from their peers. So my beloved and I exchanged raised eyebrows as Liam took one look and gravitated, apparently in a trance-like state, almost instantly towards the TV room.

And so began the next phase at Bambanani: one of regular and ongoing negotiation.

“Please can I go to the TV room and play a video game? Pleeeeeeeeeeeease?”

“Only when you have run around the climbing frame from bottom to top three/four/six/seven* times. THEN you may go.”

(*The figure subject to various factors including the mood of the parent and whether we had already allowed any TV time at home before visiting the B place.)

So there we were. Alone outside on the deck with our children no longer whizzing along the climbing frame and waving at us cheerily from the various levels while we beamed proudly back. Oh yes, we – and the climbing frame – had been well and truly deserted for the video games.

Came winter, that year, and we moved inside. (In previous winters, we would sit outside and pretend not to be cold while we watched the boys.)

Bambanani inside

So there we were – inside.

Closer to the children for us to peer at them quizzically from time to time to make sure they were all right.

Warmer on a cold frosty day, especially near the roaring open fire.

Sometimes we even move out onto the outermost area now – the ‘stoep’ at the front door. It’s cool in summer and warm enough in winter if we feel like some fresh air (most of the time).

And now that we have our choice of places to sit – except the bottom level, it belongs by absolute right to the cubs and their vigilant pride – we feel free to move around according to the weather and our mood. When we sit on the upstairs deck and peer over to the bottom-most level, I am nostalgic at how far we have come in just four years. Some days I even wish I was back down at the bottom, where the smallest inhabitants are still wearing nappies and the sudden loss of a toy is indescribably sad.

It’s funny, and heartwarming, how the different areas of a child-friendly restaurant have allowed me to chart – metaphorically – some of the significant moments of my parenting journey so far.

Bambanani stoep

Postscript:

Perhaps the strangest thing of all, in terms of this little journey, is that my relatively recent Bambanani memories are being built on the ghostly presence of my previous, single self, when I used to hang out, many years ago, at a Melville bistro called The Question Mark. The Question Mark was great for a while and then less great. But for a long while it was my favourite haunt.

It’s funny how the wheel, invisibly turning, charts the moments. Sometimes, while I’m at the B-place, I look up quickly and seem to see the ghost of my former self drinking red wine over in the corner, laughing with my friends on a girls’ night out. With the joyful carelessness of youth, with that conviction of being utterly invincible, we are almost all of us smoking far too many cigarettes within a backdrop of interesting art and loud music. Inevitably we are complaining about the slow service, and yet inevitably we stay until the small hours of the morning. Sometimes we spot the occasional actor commanding attention from the lesser surrounding mortals with an imperious, theatrical gesture. It’s all full of intense, competing, shouting life.

Yes.

Bambanani is built on the former site of The Question Mark.  

Today my cigarette smoking is in the past, the art has been replaced by white walls and family-friendly images, and I don’t handle drinking into the small hours as well as I used to.

But a little part of my younger self is imprinted in the very air and walls of the Melville site that is Bambanani/Question Mark. I am grateful to have had the venue, in this strange way, morph and evolve with me over time. And it’s still full of intense, competing, shouting life. It’s just that these days, the guests of honour are mostly a lot smaller, and possibly better behaved. 

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Scenery to fall in love with

I always thought I wanted to live at the coast one day, instead of in land-locked Joburg. Now, I think I was made to breathe near mountains.

At first, though, I wanted to be in the rolling green hills of Kwa-Zulu Natal, somewhere close to Durban and the prettiness of the midlands, although I hadn’t decided exactly where I would plant my feet and declare “This is it! This is home.” I pictured my (not yet born or even on the horizon at the time) children going to the sun-drenched beaches at weekends and becoming lean brown water-borne creatures, comfortable slipping in and out of the blue-green ocean as they snorkelled, surfed and dived.

Then I realised that although KZN tends to have great winters most of the time (warm in comparison to the inland temperatures), the coastline is extremely humid in summer and you spend your life dripping with sweat and battling to keep your bedding crisp and fresh. And I also embarked on a once-off scuba-diving course, when I then remembered about all the big sharks that toothily inhabit the sea, so I decided the (still not born) children didn’t have to become water-borne creatures after all and that perhaps the KZN coastline, as beautiful as it is, wasn’t quite my ideal part of the world – at least not for permanent residence.

Still in pursuit of a dream (“When I grow up I’m going to live in X part of the country”) I have now turned my attentions to the western Cape. This part of the world enticed me after I’d fallen in love with Frank and we’d become an item. For our first Christmas holiday together, we went to the beautiful Paarl, where some of his family live.

The name Paarl comes from the Dutch name for a pearl (‘parel’) and like a pearl, the town and its surrounds are really beautiful. Legend has it that a Dutch explorer in the 17th century arrived in the area during stormy weather. As the sun came out, it glistened on three huge granite outcrops on the mountain looming over the valley below, reminding the Dutchman of diamonds and pearls, and so he admiringly named it ‘The Diamond and Pearl Mountain’. In the fullness of time the diamond part got dropped and the pearl prevailed and so from beneath the ‘Paarl Rock’ grew the town of Paarl.

The pearls of Paarl Rock

Frank unconsciously translates from Afrikaans when he calls it, in English, ‘The Paarl’, adding the definite article in front of it the way that Afrikaners call it ‘Die Paarl’. I think it deserves the honour of having the definite article in front of it in English too.

And so, the beautiful town of the Paarl is about an hour’s drive from Cape Town in the long shadows of the surrounding mountains, nestling in the enfolding wine lands that are around it, above it and even in it. You can’t drive in the vicinity of  the town without passing wine farm after wine farm after wine farm: some rich and resplendent with money and glamour; others smaller and cuter and dripping with character. And characters too, of course: human, canine, equine, bovine and, um, sheep. (What are sheep again?)

I fell in love with all of it – instantly. Frank and I drove from Joburg to Paarl that holiday, a distance across the country of about 1 400 kilometres. We therefore came to the Paarl having first negotiated the long dry flatness of the huge Karoo semi-desert area for more hours than I care to remember. My eyes were sore with the sameness of the Karoo: miles upon miles of (to me) visual boredom that the car just couldn’t quite shake, no matter how fast Frank drove to eat up the flat, dreary landscape.

I am aware that the Karoo has its own admirers who love the place and feel their souls are quenched there in its dryness and its unique semi-desert features, which bloom beautifully and surreally in the spring. Although I would admittedly like to visit in the spring one year, I am not a desert person, and so I felt my own soul start to perk up considerably when the scenery finally, bit by bit, started to change again.

Slowly, imperceptibly, the land morphed into something once more appealing.

Slowly the horizon grew a significant hill or two.

Slowly you saw signs of water that had arrived and then stayed to nurture the plants and coax the earth out of its dull palette of browns and greys.

By the time we drove through the Hex River Valley I was overwhelmed with the sensation that the world had exploded back to life. Ponds, dams, fruit farms and vineyards: all made bright patchworks of colour in the valley and up the enclosing mountain slopes before the gradient got too steep and the vegetation gave way to purple distance.

A valley exploding with life

I felt that I was home. I felt I was breathing air that had been waiting for me, ready to nurture my body and my spirit. We stayed for three blissful, soul-renewing weeks and everywhere we went in this amazing part of South Africa, we seemed to drive through beauty.

Then reality beckoned us back home and back to work.

Today, Frank and I live with our two boys in Johannesburg, one of the main economic hubs of South Africa. For now our jobs keep us here and we live in ‘the house that sang to me’ as I drove past it one day.

We love our house. We are really lucky with its unique vista, overlooking as it does one of the two Melville ‘koppies’ (hills), which are essentially unchanged since the days of iron age man. The east Melville koppie is a closed-off nature reserve and the west Melville koppie, which forms part of our view – the children call it ‘our mountain’ – is home on Sundays to a religious sect, who arrive in their blue, green and white robes and set the mini-mountain alive with their open air singing and the throbbing of distant drums.

'Our mountain'

To maximise the view of ‘our mountain’ and our exposure to the sky, Frank has built a deck in the back garden, above our storeroom (yes, he really did build it himself, plank by laborious plank). Here we like to sit for sundowners at weekends and on public holidays when the weather is kind. To our north lies the beautiful park surrounding Emmarentia Dam, where we walk sometimes with the boys and the dog, and to our west lies the Westdene Dam, where we also visit occasionally, although we usually find a bigger attraction en route in the glasses of good wine waiting for us at the cosy restaurant of ‘Tosca del Sol’.

In front of ‘our mountain’, flanking it as it runs west to east, is a long, thin valley and riding the thermals of the valley air we sometimes see the white flocks of sacred ibis on their travels. At other times, if we are lucky, they actually fly over our heads as we sit on our deck, astonishing us with the utter silence of their wings, which in flight are almost as quiet as an owl’s. At these moments, just sitting on our deck between earth and sky is like a benediction.

Flying soundlessly overhead like a blessing

My parents live just on the other side of ‘our mountain’, about five kilometres as the crow flies. My mom (sometimes aided by my dad, and sometimes apparently hindered) looks after the children in the afternoons until I fetch them once I’ve finished work. Most days, I’m happy to report, my parents are smiling when I fetch the boys and I hear tales of the funny things that were said and done. Sometimes I see my dad walking in the area with his neighbour, Sam, as I’m en route to work in the mornings. I always stop for a brief chat and a laugh, and revel in the quiet comfort of this unexpected domestic encounter. It is another piece of the puzzle that is my charming green neighbourhood and my home.

And yet sometimes, as we sit on the deck with a gracious bottle of dry white wine, I may inspect the label and see that it comes from the Paarl area, and it brings a little pang. While ever-conscious of counting my blessings, I look over then at ‘our mountain’ and wish, somewhat ungratefully, that it was a little bigger.

Or maybe even a lot bigger, with a long purple shadow and three glistening outsize pearls on its summit. Oh to have my cake and eat it too, and simply transplant the house. I’m sure I could persuade my parents to relocate.

The house that sang to me

We weren’t planning on buying our present home – it took us by surprise. One day about six years ago I drove past a house with a for sale sign outside it. I looked up at the house – it’s on a bit of a rise – and caught my breath.

It was singing to me.

I want to live there, I thought, with a sudden longing that took me by surprise.

So I drove home and told my husband, “I drove past this house today and it sang to me.”

“Uh oh,” was his succinct response. Sometimes he has a sixth sense about these things. Anyway, it was on show the next day and we went to see it.

It was one half of a semi-detached with a view over the West Melville Koppie in Johannesburg. It had wooden floors, pressed ceilings, a stoep that has to be called a balcony because it’s too nice to be called a stoep . . . there was lots and lots to love. And it had a view!

We discovered that about ten years previously, the existing house had been subdivided and both sides renovated, and now we were interested in number 12A.

So we thought about it and two days later we put in a provisional offer, subject of course to being able to sell our existing house.

All went well and four months later we were moving into the house that sang to me. It sang to my husband also.

We were quite happy and singing back when the owner of the other side decided to put his place on the market. And then we discovered that we had inadvertently bought the house next door.

When the original renovations were done, there was a mix-up at the deeds office and the erf numbers were swapped. And because a person’s property is legally assigned according to an erf number, we had bought the house next door, which had just been sold.

In essence, our neighbour had just sold our house and we were now squatting in his.

A year later – not to mention lots of heartache, paperwork, yet more lawyers’ fees and worst of all nobody to sue, we finally retoasted our new house.

The house that sang to us. Now officially ours.

 

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