Lekker by the sea

2011-02-02 00:00

WE have just got back from our annual­ sea holiday. No one who lives at the coast can truly understand the trek-like nature of what a sea holiday means for a family living up north.

When my Cape Town friend Brian­ heard that we were doing the 14-hour drive back to the farm in one day with our two young children, he had to admit, “You are made of sterner stuff than the rest of us.”

Before my parents moved us to the Cape in 1978, we also used to do the annual trek to Wilderness from Johannesburg each Christmas holiday. Until we were in the car, things were always pretty­ stressful. My father would be tense as he had to somehow get the heavily packed caravan out of the mud that it had been standing in since our last annual holiday, and hitch it to the car. My mother was tense because she had to push the caravan out of the mud while my father hitched it. We children were all tense as we knew that if our parents were tense then the end of the world could follow shortly.

We all fell in line to help push. This made my father even more tense as he knew that the probability of the caravan being rammed into the car by his three helpful children had just increased exponentially.

After a series of “Push.” “Enough.” “Stop.” “@#!!!” “Okay, try again”, we eventually had the caravan hitched and had only to lock the house before we could be on our way.

And after that it was: “Are we nearly there?” and “I need to wee,” and “But she hit me first,” and “Are we nearly there now?” and “How far is another 1 000 kilometres?” But despite the tiring journey throughout which our sweaty legs stuck to the vinyl car seats, it was always worth it once we got there.

We would wait for our cousins to arrive with their caravans and their tense parents. Once everything was unpacked and in its place, we would sit around the fire that night and listen to our fathers relaxing into a conversation comparing fuel consumption and the speed traps encountered on the way down. This particular interchange, engaged in year after year, signalled the start of the holiday.

Three weeks of playing endlessly with our cousins followed, buying ice creams and Lekkasmekkas at the caravan park shop that always smelt of gas, and swimming daily in the lagoon which more often than not left a dark ring of speedboat oil around our necks, making us look like cormorants hit by an tanker spill. Nothing could beat a holiday at the sea.

But the sad thing was that time at the sea always had to end and we had to return to life in suburbia. After weeks of focusing on the sea, on forests and on mountains, the concrete jungle was ugly and offensive to our nature-filled eyes.

Thirty-two years later, I find myself doing a similar 1 000 km north-south and then south-north trek with my own little family for our annual sea holiday. After spending two weeks at the coast, and having endured the 14-hour journey back home with the next generation of “Are we nearly there?” cries and “This is getting too long now”, I looked at the streets of our platteland town, as we drove through them back to the farm. It wasn’t the concrete jungle, but it was still offensive. We were driving behind a truck carrying another truck. The “abnormal load” sign sat in front of us making our journey slower. The streets were wide and filled with dust, even though it was the rainy season.

There were too many branches of Ellerines. The potholes had increased visibly in diameter since we had left two weeks previously.

I knew that I would fall in love with this town once again after I had seen Adele in the Fotoshop and reconnected with all my familiar haunts: buying milk from the shop behind Absa bank, droë wors from the butcher and meeting Lucy­ for a white hot chocolate in the Wimpy. But right then it all looked as bleak and unpromising as it had 18 months ago when we first got here and I knew no one. It was all very unCape Town. I could not help thinking wistfully of mountains and forests and cicada beetles and the chance of hearing English and maybe bumping into someone I knew from the past.

And then, the falling in love happened­ again sooner than I expected.

After our holiday, my children were sick and I had to take them to the doctor. It was delaying their starting school for the new year, but sickness cannot be helped.

I phoned to make an appointment. I had never met the receptionist who answered. But after hearing who was speaking she broke off writing down my cellphone number and informed me: “Jou kind gaan in my kind se klas wees hierdie jaar.”

“O, wie is jou kind?” I asked her.

“My kind is die juffrou,” she answered.

I grinned. The warmth of small- town living where everyone and their mothers look out for you and yours even before you’ve made their acquaintance, flooded around me.

I forgot the cicada beetles and the feeling of the salt from the sea shrinking my skin in the hot sun, and could feel myself settling happily into 2011 in our small ocean-less, yet diamond-rich town.

• Catherine Smetherham is an ex-city dweller who is rediscovering herself and South Africa from a platteland perspective. She lives in Strydpoort, North West. Contact her at Catherine@holtzhausen.com

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