Where the muesli parents roam

2011-04-25 00:00

"ON the other side of the tie-dyed curtain," I wanted to say to him, "down there on the Cape Peninsula where the muesli parents roam, there are rugby teams of children made up of the likes of my son."

Flip, the rugby coach, and I, were having a conversation about Nicolaas giving up that

extramural activity. "It's not the teaching," I had explained to him, "it's just that he does not want to do any extramurals right now and I thought seeing that he is only five years old I would not push him."

"That's no problem. I think you are wise," Flip answered. I nodded, agreeing that I am a wise mother. "I could see that he was not a rugby player," Flip finished.

Easy, Flip, easy. I did not say he was not good at rugby, all I said was that he was not interested in doing it right now. "You could see it?" I asked him in disbelief, unable to accept that his diet of a raw egg beaten into milk followed by two pork sausages in addition to a bowl of pap every morning, had not changed my child's genetic disposition. (I had started this regime after seeing him naked and rib-bearing, among his well-

covered friends at a slip-and- slide party.)

"Yes," said Flip, "I could see he is not a rugby player. But tell me," he asked in an attempt to make me feel better. "Is he clever?"

'Yes," I answered. What mother would say no to this question?

"Nee, ek het so gedink," said Flip, "I can see he is academic. Not a rugby player."

So that's how it works. There are clever children and the rest are rugby players. Or rather, in this North West province there are rugby players and if you are not one of them you had better hope you are clever. (Perhaps not being willing to throw yourself into a rugby tackle or a scrum is a sign of superior mental ability.) And it was not as though I had been desperate for Nicolaas to play the sport. I know he is fast and I know he has good ball sense. It was just a matter of fitting in.

Trying not to sound desperate, I rode my last wave of hope at getting my son to feel like one of the boys. "Not even a wing, Flip?" I asked. "Don't you get clever wings?"

When I was at school on the other side of the tie-dyed curtain in what should have been called Little Britain, but which was also known as Fish Hoek, we were sent off once a year to play sport against Malmesbury High. It was an attempt to rectify the damage done by Lees Gesels en Skryf and get us all fluent in

Afrikaans.

We never stood a chance. We always came back defeated, both linguistically and on the sports field. We played against children raised on mielie pap and lamb chops. Living at the sea, we did not lack for iodine, but nutrition-wise we were stunted compared to our Malmesbury counterparts.

We had precious little to offer other than face paint that glowed in the dark which we all smeared on ourselves at the compulsory disco we always had in the evening after we had been defeated 12-0, 24-3 and 36-0 on the sports fields.

In the second year into our cultural exchange, our rugby captain was asked to pray before the match. Our English school had as much experience of this religious ritual as we had of French cuisine. The captain racked his brains and came up with the only prayer he knew. They linked arms, bowed their heads and he prayed. "For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful."

"Amen," the team chorused. And they all went forth to be annihilated yet again.

In retrospect, although the one-off cultural exchange did nothing to improve any of our language skills, it must have worked for me on some level. Here I am, living way beyond any signpost to the tie-dyed curtain, deep in skaap-tjop territory and as happy as a pig in mud. I have married an Afrikaner (who incidentally has just become a vegetarian) and my children are being educated in Afrikaans. And although I have no rugby wing, my child at the age of five has already been classified as clever. We have no ocean, but we have warthogs, porcupines, monkeys, sunrises and sunsets and hectares of space.

I once heard some people talking English here in a restaurant.

And yes, Lord, for this and so much more that I have received, I am indeed truly thankful.

• 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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