Monday, 31 October 2011

Note from Madam Brattex
As I've mentioned several times on my blog, I really love God's creatures. I know many women who hunt (shoot the big five etc) for sport. I know of fanatical gardeners who walk around with a bucket of boiling water, and toss in live snails to get rid of the pests who eat their flowers. My mother- in-law sets rat traps, and my own mother apparently once clubbed several frogs to death. (They had taken up residence in the wood pile next to the fire place in the living room.) Please don't get me wrong. I judge not. It's just that apart from using fly and mozzie spray, I really have a problem with killing  things. I once boiled an egg for Anna, only to realize when I cracked it open that I'd boiled a baby chicken. OOPS! I almost fainted. I also ran over my beloved Daxi, and broke her leg. Accidents happen, but nothing has ever affected me quite the way the goldfish incidence did. It just seemed such a cruel way for something to die. I don't think it's a pretty story or even an interesting story, but I wanted to tell it anyway.
Madam Bratex

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Shiney Goldie, part 2

It's cheese making day, and I'm a little distracted. Time for a quick cup of coffee before heading to the cheese room. I notice the kettle is taking ages to boil,(a watched kettle never boils!) and realise there is a great deal of lime- build-up around the element. There's a product called Calci-clean that's very effective at descaling kettles. It's pretty potent stuff. I think it contains hydrochloric acid. I add half a cupful to the Kettle and it begins to fizz. The phone rings. Abandoning the job at hand I take the call. Ten minutes later I realise I'll have to skip my coffee break, and dash to the cheese room to add the rennet to the vat of milk.
I complete the batch of cheese.  I'm now aching for that cup of coffee. When I get back the house, all is quiet. Bliss.. Jack and Anna must be in the veldt. En route to the kitchen I pause to feed Shiny Goldie, and notice that his water looking a little murky. It'll take me two ticks to clean the fish bowl. Then I'll enjoy my coffee.
The bowl is clean, and refilled with fresh water. It's winter and the tap water is icy cold. I decide to add a dash of hot water from the kettle. I don't want the poor fish to freeze...
I place the goldfish back on the sideboard.  Something is clearly wrong! There seems to be blood coming out of his gills! Shiny Goldie definitely does not look happy. Shucks. Did I make the water too hot? In a panic, I rush back to the kitchen to add more cold water.
Suddenly it hits me. l can't breathe. "F--k, F-ckity, F-ck!" The Calci-clean! I feel sick; Horrified. There's a terrible pain in my chest. Shiny Goldie is floating lifelessly on his side. I can't tell if he's dead or alive. Like a cat, I give him a couple of taps with my finger. He tries to swim, but it's no use. He floats to the surface again. I'm a murderer. Silently I sob. Tears streaming down my face. I vow never to eat fish again. I know I'm completely over reacting. It's just a goldfish for goodness sake. But he was our goldfish.
Anna! What will I tell her? She's back from the veldt. It takes every ounce of my courage to tell her the truth. I tell her that mummy made a terrible mistake. She's crying.  Absolutely heartbroken. I feel like a monster. I promise her I'll get her another fish. She says she doesn't want another fish ever again.
Jack wants to know why Anna is so sad. I tell him the story. "Thanks goodness it was the fish, and not you who drank the water," he mutters. Zero emotion. He's missed the point completely.  He shakes his head at my stupidity and walks out. Sometimes men just don't get it...
Okay, enough doom and gloom. There is a happy ending. When we arrive at our neighbours for dinner that night, they've heard the story. News travels fast in the Karoo. Anna is presented with two goldfish that they caught from their pond. Our friends are wonderful!  Anna is delighted. She decides to call her new pets Shiny and Goldie.(Goldie is the bigger one.) I'm delighted to report that they are still both looking very happy!
Madam Bratex

Shiny Goldie, part one

It's entrepreneurs day at Anna's junior school. The pre primary class are too young to participate fully, but are told to each bring R20 to school to buy something from the older children. "Buy mama something nice," I say to Anna as I kiss her goodbye.
 I'm expecting her to return with a packet of fudge, or a slice of chocolate cake. But no; she brings home a goldfish in a jam jar. "It's for us to share," she proudly announces." His name is Shiny Goldie."
Ouma's pantry is a den of treasures and tucked away in the corner of a dusty shelf we find an old fish bowl. Shiny Goldie is introduced to his new home. "How can we tell if he's happy or not?" Anna wants to know. I gaze into his bulgy little eyes, and watch his mouth open and close, as goldfish mouths do, and suggest that he looks perfectly happy. Anna persists. "Dogs wag their tails, and people smile, what do goldfish do?" I'm stumped. I suggest we feed him his sprinkles. We watch him gulp his food and decide he must be happy.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Slow Food

Slow Food
They say that French women don't get fat. Apparently the reason for this is that they treat each meal as a ceremony. The food is lovingly prepared and the table beautifully decorated. They eat small portions of well prepared food, and sip a glass of wine with their meal. Meal times for the French, are to be enjoyed at leisure.
Although we don't always succeed, at Langbaken we do try to take time to enjoy our meals. I feel particularly satisfied when I know that the spread on the table is all wholesome farm produce. Freshly picked salad leaves, garnished with fragrant herbs from the garden, crusty home baked bread, farm butter, yogurt, and a mouth watering array of artisanal cheeses, all made by myself. I think I'm justified in feeling a little smug.
Recently I've been making Chevre (cream cheese made from goat's milk) with milk from the neighbour's goats. It's really tasty.
 The sourdough loaf has just come out of the oven. The homely smell of steaming, baked bread pervades the kitchen. I ladle a large scoop of creamy Chevre into a pretty pottery dish. A little crushed garlic,  some shredded basil and fresh thyme are scattered over the top. A grind of pepper, and a liberal drizzle of extra virgin olive oil finishes off the dish. The blue-white of the goats cheese contrasts with the greenish, golden colour of olive oil, and for a moment I wish I could paint. Instead I take a photograph.
I carry the simple fare out to the stoep on a teak board, and the three of us tuck- in. I watch Anna cram her mouth full of bread and cheese. Olive oil runs down her chin. I know I should reprimand her for stuffing her face, but she's enjoying it so much I haven't the heart. It tastes truly delicious. The lemony, goats milk cheese is enhanced by the olive oil and fresh herbs. A sip of Lismore Sauvignon Blanc completes the taste sensation.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Nap

I'm in the most beautiful place. Half awake, half asleep. It's a state unlike any other. There is a brief flutter of awareness. I hear my daughter's bare feet drumming on the wooden floorboards. I know the sound of her footsteps. Similarly, I know my husbands heavier, slower tread. She's clearly fine, chatting with her dollies in the next door bedroom. I drift in and out of my blissful state. Sooner or later I'll have to get up, but for now I can just lie. A cup of tea would be nice...

There is something so fabulously decadent about an afternoon nap. I'm is always inclined to feel a little guilty at taking such a liberty in the middle of the day, but through practice and perseverance I'm managing to overcome the guilt.

My husband, being a dairy farmer is used to getting up in the dark. His day usually begins at 5.00 am. By the time it's lunch, he's worked 8 hrs. For him a nap is a necessity if he's going to be able to function efficiently for the rest of the day. I on the other hand have no such excuse. I nap because I can.

We have a king sized, extra long, double bed, and I have to say there is no bed in the world more comfortable. It's not simply the comfort, it's the feeling of being in my own space. A safe place, where no one can intrude. A place where I can let it all hang out. A place to cherish, and be cherished.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The Thunderstorm

Jack and Anna are laughing as they race their bicycles around the front lawn. The distant sky is dark. Lightening periodically flashes in the sky. It looks like our neighbours  are getting rain. I inhale deeply. Aah, the fresh smell of approaching rain.
 Big, wet splats of rain begin to fall, and with a speed that shocks us the storm is upon us. An angry wind begins to thrash around us. There's an almighty, ground shaking clap of thunder that scares the living-daylights out of me. "Quickly. Get inside," shouts Jack. I hear the urgency in his voice. Anna doesn't. She's a good girl and wants to put her bike away, so it doesn't  get wet. "Quickly," Jack shouts again, grabbing her roughly and hauling  her through the front door. Anna is crying. She's worried about the dogs outside. Jack opens the door, just a crack and without further invitation, three wet, quivering dogs shove through, falling over each other to get in.
With that, there is another earth- quaking boom, and a bolt of lightning that strikes the floor in the entrance hall.  The lights go out. Jack slams the front door closed. All this has taken place in a matter of seconds. More thunder and lightning  follows, and a sheet of water such as I've never seen before, torrents down, lashing against the windows. Man, it's scary. Anna's eyes are large in her pale face, and her clammy little hand grips mine. For once in her life she is shocked into silence.
The three dogs are all trying to squeeze under the coffee table. I'm hunting for matches to light a candle. It's only four in the afternoon, but it's as dark as night.
As quickly as it came, the storm subsides. The stove, television, satellite  dish and telephone are not working; struck by lightning.  We are all feeling a trifle shattered, and gingerly we venture out to inspect our drenched surroundings. We've had 46ml of rain in twenty minutes. Its caused a flash flood and a river is gushing through our garden.
Our spirits instantly lift. Rain in the Karoo is always something to celebrate. The three of us climb onto the motorbike and drive through the river that our road has become. There's a magical light in the evening sky that glows golden, pink and rosy. Just like the warm, fuzzy  glow in my heart.
Madam Brattex

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Friday, 21 October 2011

Wat se ge-blog?

Die "geblokkery" pla my nou al vir 'n geruime tyd. Hoekom sal iemand nou sy of haar eie lewens ervaringe met ander wou deel? Odd, baie odd vir my. Ons 3tjies, ek, die vroutjie en klein "brat" kom een aand laat van die bure af met die ou plaas motorfites. Halfpad huis toe, koud en vaak,  by die tweede plaashek om presies te wees, stop pa vir 'n pee. Geen mens kan 'n "Castle" vir so lank inhou nie. Met die maan wat die nag verlig, gebruik ek die paar sekondes om te mediteur. "Is die kombinasie van nag en lig nie iets buitegewoons mooi  nie?" vra ek myself. Toe ek omkyk sit die res van die familie kaalgat in die maanlig besig om dieselfde te doen. Hulle sê mos pie-pie is aansteeklik.
Ons is 5 minute later by die huis. Die klein Brat bed toe en ek en vroutjie gooi 'n laaste glasie goeie rooi. En dis toe wat ons besluit, ons wil blog. Blog vir onsself en as iemand dit ooit wil lees, fine.   Baas Jack

Sunday Evening Prayers

Recently Jack decided that we should have a family time of Bible stories and Prayers on a Sunday evening. He felt it would be a nice way round off the weekend, settle down and get focused for the week ahead.  Anna and I readily agreed.  Anna loves stories and interaction of any kind, and I miss going to church. I don't wish to criticise the Dutch Reform Church, it's quite simply that I don't understand most of the Afrikaans service.
It has developed into a lovely routine, and one that we all enjoy. Anna always dims the lights and insists we light candles, to make us feel  "holy and churchy."We begin with Papa reading a story from the children's bible, which we then discuss. Papa  chooses a topic he feels is important to us as a family, (such as forgiveness) and Mama reads some relevant verses out of the Bible. We all participate in how we can learn from God's word.  Anna tells me she forgives me for shouting at her yesterday, and promises that she is going to share her toys with the poor children. She then prays, "God please bless the poor people, and bless us too because we are rich". It is such an earnest  little prayer. Jack and I open one eye, peak at each other and smile. Indeed we are rich.
We end the "service" with breaking bread, and drinking from the cup. I usually use Cream Crackers in the place of bread, and Grapetiser in the place of wine. We all partake. We explain to Anna how the bread represents the body of Christ that was broken for us, and the wine represents the blood of Christ that was shed for us. Finally we have a family hug.
One Sunday afternoon Anna comes bouncing into our bedroom, with an expression of excited expectation on her face.  She asks, "Papa, are we going to do that bloody, biscuity thing tonight?" We both burst out laughing. She can't understand what we find so funny about her question. I'm certain The Lord has a sense of humour, but for the first time I realise why the  traditional churches decided Confirmation Classes were necessary.
By Madam Brattex

A Note from Madame Brattex

I'm finding it tricky to keep writing about" My Husband," and "My Daughter," and have decided to refer to my husband as Jack, and my daughter as Anna. 99% of the context of my stories is true. The remaining 1% is due to omission, rather than embellishment.

The Paradox

One of things I love about farm life is the fact that our lives are constantly enriched by the presence of domestic  animals.
We hand rear all the little Jersey calves, and the odd orphaned lamb as well. We have pigs and piglets, which I must say have HUGE personalities in comparison to the sheep, which  I've always found rather uninspiring,( although they do look pretty dotted about the veldt.)
 The Jersey cows are our pride and joy, as well as our bread and butter. They are the most dignified creatures, and they produce the lush , creamy milk that makes our dairy products so utterly delicious.
The sad truth is that all these animals that have been so lovingly reared, ultimately end up either in our own pot, or somebody else's.  I've always felt that once animals have been named, you can't eat them.  Bacon the pig, is safe for now. He looks too unappetising. When his time comes he'll probably end up as dog food. Recently however, Lucky Johnny Cutie, the lamb that our daughter so diligently hand reared, and Wilbur the pig both ended up in our very own pots.
 Who can resist the tender, succulence of a slice of rare roast beef? Pork crackling? The crispy fat on a braaied lamb chop? Sucking the juicy marrow out of a shin bone? Not I...
I do find it a little tragic that our five year old, is always franticly checking up on which of her pets is going to be slaughtered; "No! You are NOT going to slaughter the chickens." Her little finger points accusingly in my face.  Her green eyes look fierce and she pouts her lips.
"Don't worry sweetie, we'll keep them if you love them so much."
 I'm afraid I told her a Mongoose killed them.
"I don't much like pork," she recently decided. Every time a pig is slaughtered she runs to check if Girl Wilbur is still there.  "Which pig are we eating now?" she asks.
"It's one you don't know," I reply lamely. But I know, she knows them all.
She is familiar with life and death. Mating, and giving birth are things often witnessed. I have held her in my arms , sobbing over the loss of a little piglet that was squashed by its own mother. I tell her about heaven. About how not a single sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing. We pray together that God will heal her broken heart.
Madam Brattex

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

The rusty bed spring

It's a hot, hazy Sunday afternoon. We 're feeling lazy after our lunch of braaied lamb chops, and one beer too many. Our five year old daughter alas, not having had a beer, is feeling  full of energy.
She wins. We decide to take a stroll down to the river. There's not a breath of wind, and the windmills are still and silent. The turtle doves are calling "work harder, work harder." The only other sound is the faint, almost inaudible  buzzing of flies.
Lying discarded on the side of the road is a rusty old bed spring. Idly I wonder how it got there, then pick it up to throw in the bin when we get home. My little girl and I begin to pick grasses and wild flowers from the Karoobossies as we amble along, kicking up the powdery dust as we go.
We never quite make it to the river. Deciding it's too hot to walk any further, we turn around and head home. When we get back we are parched. Our daughter fills a jug with cold water, and freshly picked mint leaves. Ice cubes clank and crackle in our glasses as we quench our thirst. "We have the most delicious water in the world, don't we Mamma," she announces proudly. I agree.
I'm about to toss the rusty bed spring in the bin. Spying the wild flowers, I hesitate. I fill the wonky coil with tufts of grass and yellow flowers and place it in the middle of the dining room table. Stunning!

Celebrating Summer

It's October,  the prettiest month in the Karoo. Things go from drab to fab, in a matter of days. The minute the night temperatures rise above freezing the trees shoot green leaves, the lawn turns green and the flowers begin to bloom.
 I rummage around in Ouma's spence looking for an old, half- used tin of paint. Eventually I find what I'm looking for, and taking my cue from nature I decide to paint my back doors the brightest of bright Blue's. It looks fantastic and lifts my mood immediately.
Madam Brattex

Monday, 17 October 2011

The Old Merc

We have an old, white Mercedes Benz. It's about my husband's age, (mid forties) . It has beautiful , dark blue leather seats that are cracked and worn.  It used to belong to my father-in-law, and I swear you can still smell the stale, yet comforting smell of pipe tobacco that has permeated the upholstery  from all the years he drove with his pipe hooked into the corner of his mouth.
We used the old Merc as our "going away" car when we got married,  but haven't found too much use for it since then. It now sits in the corner of the farm shed, rather forlornly, covered  to protect it from bird droppings, with a faded  maroon and gold carpet that used to be in my husband's bedroom as a child.
Every now and then the old merc  gets raised from its slumber, and parked on the front lawn, where it 's washed down with a hose, and polished until it shines.  I can see the expression on that old car's face lift out of its dejectedness, and glow with pride. We always brag that no matter how long the old Merc stands, it always starts on the first turn of the key!
One Sunday we decide to go to Church.  Unfortunately I can't rustle  up much enthusiasm. My husband does not approve of what I'm wearing and this doesn't improve my mood. It's a wintry day and I've put on some leggings, boots and a longish mini skirt. (I do realise my age!) It's the mini skirt that simply won't do in the Dutch Reform Church. Without any grace I change into  black slacks.
The old Merc is gleaming for the occasion and we are almost ready to leave when one of the farm labourers reminds us that his three children need a lift back to town for school on Monday. "These bloody kids are going to make us late for church." My husband is not impressed. I remind him that Christian charity is more important than being in time for church.
When we pull up to pick up the children, there are not just three of them, but seven! The neighbouring farm children need a lift too. They all pile on to the  back seat. Thank goodness they made these old cars for big families, back in the days when there was no television!
We set off for church on the corrugated, dirt road. My five year old daughter is on my lap, and there are seven eager  little coffee- coloured faces behind me. I smile to myself for the first time today. What a sight we must be! Glancing sideways at my husband I notice how handsome he looks in his "Sunday best". Casually he takes my hand and places it on his thigh. We rattle on into town, dust streaming behind us. 
 by Madame Brattex

Thursday, 13 October 2011

The scent of desert roses

"Pristine" is the word I would use to describe the life we live in the Karoo. Actually it's the word my mother used. "You and Peter live such pristine lives at Langbaken", she said to me during one of our long telephone conversations. Well, she didn't say it, she shouted it. Loudly. Which is what you have to do in order to be heard over the static interference, and crackling of our antiquated, farm party line. Casual chatting on the phone with one's mother is not something easy to do where we live. For starters, the line is mostly "besig", with  boere vrouens, either swopping jam recipes, or listening in to the neighbour on the phone to his bank manager. Nothing like a little entertainment while you wait for your turn to use the phone! Pity my Afrikaans is so bad...

I choose to take time out to smell the roses. It's one of the most luxurious choices we have in the Karoo: To take time out, between making cheese, butter and yogurt. Time out between feeding the husband, the child, the dogs, the cats, the doves, the guinea pigs, the kapokkies, the ducks, and the pig. Feeding the pets is a job I could probably deligate, but I always say it's what gets me up in the mornings. At 6.30 am precisely every morning the birds and animals congregate, either on my bed, (cats and dogs) or outside my bedroom window. They all shout at once; clukking,crowing, cooing, quacking, squeaking and grunting, until I haul myself out of bed to feed them all. I do it with a happy heart. I've always loved God's creatures. Honestly, I love this place. Yes, coming here has been a good move. Madam Brattax