A day in Paris. A day is all you need to fall in love x

IMG_6159 Oh yes, you have heard it, Paris is always a good idea …


Quite a daunting task to organise a trip to Paris for a group of fabulous women in a day, but a day was all we needed to inspire future visits.

Most had encountered her charms before, for others it was the first time, so it was a challenge to create an itinerary to accommodate all tastes, in a few short hours, a taster so to speak, of the French capital. 

IMG_6158 The day began early.

Catching the Eurostar at Six Fifteen from London meant an early rise.  The train trip alone was fabulous and I am a great fan of Eurostar.  So a little of what we did in a day:

  •  Arrived 9.40 am at Gare du Nord. Always find it a little disappointing after St. Pancras and there seems to be more and more beggars about every time I go. Not the greatest first impression.
  • The Uber thing.  To the Opera with her golden tinged statues and incredible architecture – with time being of the essence, the Metro meant a change and Uber is ideal.
  • The Wow factor, done.  More than that, it was time to discover a time old favourite of mine, a place where my Grandmother took my mother, my mother me and me, my children – it was for coffee and croissants at the famous Cafe de la Paix. Grand on a grand scale.
  • A short walk to the beautiful Madeline. No, we shall shop at Fragonard at some other time, this is for now and you need to see her.  The Madeline Cathedral is one of my favourites, a place of sanctuary and stillness.  To light candles for those we love, as I do everytime I visit. 


Close by, was the once Madeline cemetery, original burial place of Louis and Marie Antoinette. 

  • The Rue Royal.  From the steps of the Madeline one gets the most amazing view towards the Concorde and Les Invalides in the background, her Golden dome glinting in the sunshine. Surrounded by gorgeous shops such as Maille, Laduree and Fouchon, we stop to chat about Maxims, a lovely Art Deco style Brasserie once favoured by Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich, Maurice Chevallier and Edward XVII.  
  • Place de la Concorde. The heart of Paris.  Upwards a view of the Arch de Triompe, in the distance the Eiffel Tower, and a lovely walk in the gardens of the Tulleries. Place of many executions per favour of Le Guillotine.
  • Ambling through the Tulleries is important and perhaps, as I show them, a visit, next time to L’Orangerie, to view the magnificent works of Monet’s waterlilies. 


  • The Louvre.  Of course, the Louvre, largest art gallery in the world, place of Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, The Nike of Samothrace and many others.  The Pyramid of glass, the immense,  overwhelming feeling of culture and art.
  • Lunch is away from the crowds.  We to view the Notre Dame and to the island of St. Louis to my favourite restaurant for Onion Soup and fresh baguettes.  


  • A short walk to the Left Bank, stopping at Shakespeare and Co. which sadly is now so popular the crowds line up outside to enter.  Hemingway would not have approved.  
  • The left bank is for the Sorbonne, the Luxembourg Gardens and all the beauties of St. Germain des Pres. 


Sadly, it was too soon before we had to return to the station and rail our way back to London – it has been a long day, up before sparrows and home after dark, but the hours in-between were wistful, wondrous and taste of Paris in her Autumn splendour.  Till next time xxx


Contact me at karen@mysilverstreet.com if you should want to experience a day in Paris too!

Lake Como, where slow is the magic of movement.

IMG_5955 ‘The beauty is…’ she said, ‘that it is impossible to be in a rush here.’

In the midst of turmoiled life last year, I to a wedding in Lenno, on the shores of Lake Como.  And I knew I had to return as a different person, to cherish and value what I lay before me in a different light.

IMG_6010 Last week I did, as Autumn spread her golden aura on the place, I immersed myself in the glory of the Grand Tour of yonder years.  In this place of lakes and mountains, some capped with snow, time stops.  Villages lie dormant despite the visitors and slow is the way to go.  Slow and steady breathing exists here.  The ferries are best for traversing the water from Village upon Village of colour, the azure of water, the bright Umbers, pinks and mustards of buildings and mountain meets shore in greens of lime, olive and forest green.  Boats bob in retro fashion.  Villas of grandeur, Hotels with names like the Grand … Hotel du Lac (one in every town) herald bygone splendour.  Is it a peaceful place.


The apartment, a find I shall wish to closet for future stays, was one of those we dream of living in.  Wooden floors, double volume, white decor and a view to wake to, to linger over, to stare out over towards the twinkling lights across the water at night, perched above restaurants still sought for watching, and doing little else but watching.  And knowing that life bustles elsewhere but here, modern life wanes for the simpler stuff of a good meal, excellent conversation, ambling amongst the shops and most of all, lingering as a flanêur should in one’s walk for no purpose but to observe.


The sense of peace is overwhelming.  History and elegance in every garden. Some come to paint, others to explore, and some, even to write of what life should be like.  I had forgotten that in the midst of worldly doings, there are places that can restore the soul, turn back the tumultuous heart and calm all as Como does. Some chose retreats for yoga, self awareness, business building, but Lake Como offers a retreat for the soul, simple, just the soul to quieten and restore.

A woman wanting to travel alone should pen this place in her diary.  Easy to reach from Milan, I chose to rail from Milan Central to Verenna and ferry to Bellagio. The journey alone allows breathtaking views of the lake, doing it Grand Tour style, without stress, without hurry.

For those wanting to centre their time around the Midlake, Bellagio offers the perfect hub, but in saying that, my stay in Lenno last year, a little quieter is ideal for the total getaway.  Other options are Verenna, Tremezzo and Menaggio for accommodation – one simply cannot go wrong and all are within reach of a simple ferry ticket for the day.  There is hiking, cycling and a variety of water activities to partake in, but for me, just day tripping from village to village, to light candles in a church, eat pasta, sip coffee and dig deep within the soul were enough to bring about a renaissance of self.  

There is a reason I love Europe.  My grandparents were born there, loved living in South Africa but always took lengthy trips back to Lake Como and passed this onto my mother, who did the same for me.  I took my children to Como to pass the legacy, the love and the gentleness of life in her moments of languish – and simply going slow for a while.

When all is said and done, battles fought and won, we need to sip the last of the summer wine in a place that takes our breath away.  We need romance and beauty … and I found her for awhile.


Are you on your bicycle of new beginnings?

68a34f3e8d0e968391519f5ff3457eb6--bike-drawing-bike-poster …you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. 
- Katherine Hepburn

If you are like me you start each morning with ‘Right!  I am going to do this.’  Refreshed from a very needed good night’s sleep and the world is full of options.  Times the day sort of wears you down, people don’t always see things from your side, but do not get sidetracked!  Do not fall off the bicycle. Some of us have not been on one for awhile.

Riding a bike is easy.  Everyone can do it.  How then to get back on the proverbial when the wheels fell off the last one?  Or your bike got stolen?  That truck of life knocked you sideways? Let’s do this together:

  • Let it go.  The old bike is no longer roadworthy. Take the bell as a memory and send the rest to the scrapheap.
  • Find a bicycle that suits you best.  I like those pretty ones – places for flowers, pretty packages and pretty colours to make the ride all the more interesting.
  •  This may seem daunting but don’t take the overused highway of life, the road that is easy, you have the skills to plan an interesting route and make it financially and  aesthetically viable.
  • Don’t worry too much about the map, have a few great options and let’s see where the road takes us.  There may be ideas lying long and dusty in the ambition box, now is the time to dust them off and take them with you on the bicycle to new beginnings.
  • Surround yourself with people that think like you do, or open your mind to views you may never have considered.  Team cycling is great.
  • Use that memory bell to tell everyone you are back on the bike and they had better watch out!  Ting a ling, ting a ling.

Confidence is the only real thing you need.  Once you feel invincible on your bicycle, everything will follow.  You may fall once or twice, but getting up, scars and all, is the only option.  Do you have the confidence to get on the bicycle of the great unknown – which you deserve – are you ready (whether you like it or not, because seriously, letting the past/feeling weak/doubt is going to hold you back) to get back on the bike, with those pretty flowers and a book of great ideas – it’s fun once you try it.

Image Pintrest







Gritty view of the city and Grenfell’s ghost


The Amazon morning days – have a free day and promised a friend I would visit their pop-up food truck to taste a prego, or two.  Turns out it was two, (no I may look it post prego, but not pregnant) so disturbingly delicious they were.  Growlers  is the food baby of two Cordon Bleu chefs with youth and drive in their hearts – ambitious and beautiful at the same time.  This could be my new ‘follow that truck’ situation.  

Found them today at Paddington Central, behind the main station and on the canal. The space has been restored into an inspirational combination of office blocks, old world barges and funky art.  Walk the walk here all the way to Camden for a great day out.  Having done that, I decided to path less known, the other way beside the water.

Tourist London ebbs into the more gritty side of the city on this route.  Park benches become fewer, quaint cafés tumble into seven elevens and residential ‘back views’ along the canal.  Though most are well cared for, the private voyeur style looking through windows reminds me of Athol Fugards play ‘People are living there.’  Swans and even better, cygnets for decoration on the water.

IMG_5432 One of the prettier blocks on the water.

Art takes the form of graffiti and to the left, the high rise council buildings shadow the clouds.  I can see the cladding, the cladding so deadly on most of them.  Still I walk on, it gets quieter here but am I nervous, no, I am in London in the afternoon.  Refugees sit silently on benches but do not disturb.  This is what makes London so unique – like most cities, the tourist areas, and the living areas, cultural melting pots within the boundaries.

But I am wandering too far, becoming rather a little bleak for me with the now failing Amazon attitude.  Decide to get a bus back to the brightness, and wait, and wait.  And observe. Cross rail signs on the other side.  A couple trying to create a patch of garden through the small gate I spy, the noise of the trains and traffic will never for a quiet space allow.  An old man is struggling to carry his grocery bags, stopping to pause, to change hands and walking stick with orange packets.  I wonder if he ever still looks up?  A whirr of skateboarders fly past.  When the bus finally arrives, I board to find it stops at the next stop – I am going the wrong way, end of the line.  How is it that I made the mistake  for goodness sake, I have lived here long enough by now! Cross the road and wait again.  Me and a young woman with a white painted face.  Like a face mask, totally white bar the black lined eyebrows, false eyelashes and box black hair.  Her suitcase, black, reaches her boobs. Goth in the daylight, her dress is torn, her life is a difficult one I think – she is young, she is a hundred years in sadness.

The ride back to Piccadilly flows past reams of houses, some blue, some pink, some forgotten.  And then, the blackened death trap of Grenfell Tower.  I cannot take it in, so large she looms over us.  Stark, World Tower of pain, looming, silent as life crawls below her.  And I wonder, should she stay in testimony to human frailty, or be razed in memory to lives lost on that awful night?  Don’t know – but I was no longer wanting to explore this city I love today.  The sadness of Grenfell continues to overwhelm.  I wanted to go home. Kept thinking about this gritty, pretty city – the ages of life, death, re-birth, famine, plague, money, success, happiness and how the layers of history lie below me as the wheels of the bus … 

Times one needs to walk further than the familiar. Inner city views for even here, in the dishevelled state, in areas we chose to ignore, there is a kindness as we saw with Grenfell, innovation, art and the most amazing people living there.



Pretty Petersham nursery – a worthwhile visit

IMG_5074 Taste the country in the city.

My daughter lives the East end of London, much more ‘happening’ she says and thinks the South West too suburban.  Until the summer arrives and the city wilts, then getting out to parks and gardens are the number one priority.  

My regular volunteering for the National Trust at Ham House in Richmond, takes me through Richmond park and past Petersham nursery.  Not just any nursery, Petersham was derelict not so long ago, rescued by Gael & Francesco Boglione in 2000 and not only restored, but became a place everyone thought was ‘the best kept secret in the world.’ Not for long. 


The arrival of Skye Gyngell to open the café and restaurant, turned Petersham into a charming venue for all to enjoy.  The old conservatories, overhung with vines and decked out with french park chairs is the perfect place for lunch or an afternoon tea.  In fact, so popular the venue became, that traffic was a nightmare (most people miss the hidden driveway) and soon a Michelin star was awarded – the pressure on Skye was too much and she is sorely missed, but the restaurant is still a brilliant option.


IMG_5082 Pretty, pretty

Though I tend to avoid Petersham on the busy weekends, my drive back from Ham on a gorgeous summer’s afternoon called for a quick stop to take in the ambiance, the amazing layout and since the death of Mermaid, our only crab apple tree on the balcony, to buy a replacement for the large pewter container.  Petersham church is where the Murray family, who lived at Ham, are buried, so the whole area is connected.

IMG_5075 This is no ordinary garden centre.  Think vintage french gardens, rustic splendour, bygone days of balls of string, terracotta pots, litchen covered statues and heritage plants.  Think orange trees, blue ceanothus, lime and acid colours. Vivid pinks and berry reds.  Wandering through this verdant dream, is a dream, even I feel pretty!

The idea was to buy a lemon tree, but my eyes fell upon the Litchfield Angel, a rose by David Austin.  I could not resist and tucked under my arm, I entered the shop.  


Along with the rose, could not resist the old fashioned broom (like the ones we used back in South Africa but obviously cost a lot less) and a cute green bottled vase for those rose blooms to rest in.  

This is the joy of living here.  A major, cultural city and the countryside – with the most beautiful river running through it. 





Saturday observations in my London.

IMG_5024 View from the National Portrait Gallery.  Big Ben, Nelson’s column, The National Gallery – a great view.

It has been a week since the attack in Borough Market and though I try not to write about politics, a day waking up to a hung parliament. For the locals, like me, having been through the bluff fail of Cameron, it all seems so a re-enactment of the same. Brexit and now this. I have to feel sorry for May’s naivety – we have been through a little too much in the past few months.

London is quiet early in the morning. Tourists rise later, locals sleep in.  Best time to discover the city.  The streets are wet from washing, cleansed from reveller’s debris the night before.  Weekend early glow when seats are free on the tube and the architecture rises to the summer day.  Learnt here, be out early with the sun, she sinks quickly to cloud. I like the solitary walk before the crowds come.  If the crowds come after the attack.

Borough Market stirs in the aftermath. Flowers where children fell. How to explain that we do not avoid but endeavour as this city has always done? We do. It is who we are. Fatigued but resilient. I like that. Southwark Cathedral is lit with candles.  I light one too.

IMG_5020 The Wallace Collection. I need art.

When life stirs troubled waters, I need art.  Once took a special person to the place. For lunch in the conservatory but more to show the three pieces that hold my imagination.  The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals.

300px-Cavalier_soldier_Hals-1624x Love the Dutch Masters with a passion and roots.

Visited the Frans Hals museum in Haarlem not so long ago, so I can relate.

maxresdefault For the joy of the Rococo. Fragonard.

The pallet of pink, turquoise and pistachio green are so unusual and delightful.  And … my favourite.


Dante and Virgil Encountering the Shades of Francesca de Rimini and Paolo in the Underworld

The movement in this piece of art has me standing before it and imagining the passion of real love, despite all.

So Art became soup, chilled and lovely:

IMG_5019 Art in food, of course.

From the Wallace Museum I walked with my friend of such long ago days to take her for a view of London few know of.  At the top of the National Portrait Gallery. I love this view, seeing Ben, the big one, Nelson’s column, the National Gallery and St. Martin’s in the Fields. For afternoon Tea.

So, from the electric Borough to the culture of the Wallace Museum to portraits of Henry and the Queen, afternoon tea and strawberry Bellini’s it was a Saturday in London that offers all, gives without question and then home.

The evening on my balcony did not end.  A walk I announced, I have to go for a walk. To the village. An evening not to waste as we have so few of these glorious offerings.  And as I walked, the buses drove by, joggers puffed (most looking as if they were beginning of the first time), on their mobiles, with their music.  Children on scooters, dog walkers and late night returners home with orange bags of groceries, I walked to the village and back. Always present the ducks honking from the park.

When you live with so little summer, these evenings are intoxicating.  To be cherished.  On my return from the walk, I sat on my balcony, as do all the residents in the building.  Wave to the neighbours – we do not speak but we are close. I think they are used to seeing me in my gown with the wine and computer by now. My office. My birdcage.

Today was a good day.  I like days like that.

A rainy afternoon with the Greats at the British museum

IMG_4808I do love a rainy afternoon.  Not all the time, and not to be confused with the endless dark days of winter, but rainy days have always held for me, creative time.  As a child we were allowed to play indoors, make houses under tables, colour in and paint; and read about interesting places in the family Atlas.

Met Callan for lunch in the city so was close to the British Museum.  As if on cue, the rain began to fall.  Tip: enter through Montague Street, fewer crowds. When I visit a museum I don’t like to see every nook and cranny (and suffer museum burnout) but focus on one or two periods in history and do them properly.  Egypt, and the Roman/Greece wings.


My Instagram

‘How fabulous to go to a museum and understand what you are looking at’

This is what I am saying!

How fabulous to know something, recognise something, be able to appreciate something and we have so much knowledge, experience and appreciation for beauty in Silver Street.


Sadly it takes little for the shutter bug selfies to ruin a moment.  Posing the child in front of a mummy who should get more respect, but patience is another virtue here and I move on.

  • Love the adornments, since days of Tut.
  • Love the admiration of the human form.
  • The British may have ‘lifted’ artefacts from around the world but at least they are preserved and we get to learn.
  • Realise there so much I am missing in my knowledge and excited to do more research.
  • Love the actual building the museum is in.
  • Mummies, sculptures, butterflies, books – all there for an afternoon’s whiling away.
  • Admire the people who put this together, dedicate their lives to preserving history.

IMG_4811 My first Drama textbook had a vase just like this on the cover, and I found it in the museum.  Ritual and Theatre in ceramics.

IMG_4815 IMG_4814 2

Best of all is the location of the British Museum.  It’s really coming down outside. Preferring to escape the crowds for a cuppa and some cake, I found my way to The London Review Bookshop, a charming bookshop and café. What I do need are some options for good reading, so feel free to advise please. So many choices and always seduced by the smell and feel of a new book, not to mention the riveting covers.

Beside me, a woman is discussing her novel in the making with someone who will read, advise on characters and act as a soundboard.  Intrigued and full of admiration for the budding novelist – take note, take note.  This is just the place to banter ideas about characters.  Watching those scurry in the drizzle outside, it’s Rooibos chai, avec the Rosemary and lemon cake (simply had to.)  Ideas are born in cafés around the world, these places nestle and nurture creative ideas.  A Hemingwayish feel about it all.


You owe it to yourself to push your learning.  To read, to write, to have a voice.

Keukenhof. Tulips and wanting to fall into them.

Tulips with heart It’s fitting that there is a gentle drizzle outside my window this morning.  I have been meaning to write about Keukenhof for the past week or so, but life is always a little to do here, a little to do there, and then when it’s like this outside, one just wants to spend time nestling – and writing. About Keukenhof.

About eleven or twelve I think I was when my mother first took me there.  The impact must have been such that I remember every turn of the paths, the paint-box colours, and my first, black tulip, carefully cultivated and protected in the hothouse.

A few years ago, in my unresearched enthusiasm, I dragged my family there only to be met with stems as short at my thumb.  A harsh winter and we were way to early.  Some pots inside had us pretending we were swimming in a park of tulips, but all left feeling cheated at the experience.  This is why it has been hankering at me for so long – like unfinished business, to confirm the teenage dream was real.

IMG_4569 2

Local growers team up with Keukenhof to produce the very best tulips on show.  Flower beds are designed to bloom at different times and naked stems are clipped so the masterpiece retains no flaws.  The organisation, planning and execution of this performance has me wondering at the months, years of design that allows for my few hours of enjoyment.  It was just as I remembered.

IMG_4564  Better than I remembered.  Arriving at Keukenhof gives one no idea of what awaits.  Awesomeness. I was lucky, it wasn’t busy judging by the few tour buses.  I don’t want to experience something this special with thousands of photo trigger tourists.  There is no soul in that. 

Do you ever try to dodge all the tourists in your photos when travelling?  I encourage travel but have I become a grumpy traveller myself? Best times, as the garden opens or mid-afternoon.


Getting to Keukenhof is easy.  There are buses from Amsterdam, Schipol Airport and Haarlem, where this Silver Solo traveller stayed for my visit.


Make sure you time your visit perfectly!  I indulged, enjoyed and was taken to another place of beauty which I hope to return to over, and over again.


One day in Paris and the colours of Spring.

Elle Paris Wisteria

There is no special time to visit Paris.  Every time is special – in Spring, Summer, Autumn and I have a particular love for Paris in the winter. Times I go for a few days, and times, such as last week, for the day.  My devotion to Paris is fixéd and unwavering.

And I do love the Eurostar.  Love the gentle, elegant way of travel under the sea.  So, it was up and ready for the taxi at 4.30 am to St. Pancras.  London, still dark, so lovely in the quiet drive, the view from Waterloo Bridge, already magical and they day had barely begun.


In Spring, there are some cherry trees beside the Notre Dame that I head for first, for they never fail to take my breath away.  Children play in the sandpit, oblivious to the sight through the flowers, the history, the Gargolyes looming towards the Seine.  It is a cloudless sky, the wind is crisp and the blossoms tutu pink and dancing.

I am not a tourist anymore, having been here so many times, so rather than the million photo opportunities of the cathedral and waiting in line to enter, I simply sit for a while and watch the blossoms here.  Today was no different.

When one only has a few hours in Paris, like I did, choosing your route is important.  Walking is the way to go, for it is too lovely to spend time underground.  I chose to meander along the lesser known streets to make my way to the Le Jardin du Luxembourg, a favourite part of my Paris.  Through the streets surrounding the Sorbonne, past Shakespeare and Company, and up into the park, where the tulips were hanging onto their last petals in the breeze. If the cherry blossoms were delicate shades of pink, the tulips were vivid hues of cerise, peach and coral, dark burgundy and deep, velvet reds.

IMG_4357 If time allowed, another visit to the museum, but it was onward, to church.  The churches in Paris know me well:  I breathe in their majesty and love the silence, the reverence of walking about, tippy toe, for the echoes are strong.  There are a few favourites, and today it was to Saint-Sulpice to light my candles.  Found another on the way, so those I love were burning brightly in my heart on my beautiful walk.



Love the way the light filters through the cracks onto the chairs, the same chairs in all the churches – little havens from the world outside.  Faith still lives there, and in particular during Easter.  Another reason I love Saint-Sulpice so much is Eugene Delacroix – his murals, painted between 1855 and 1862 in The Chapel of the Angels, are exquisite.  Who can but not be in awe of ‘Jacob wrestling with the Angel’ when one can feel the torment and anguish of man’s struggle with God.  Art is meant to be evocative, to stir response. ‘ “In truth, painting taunts and torments me in a thousand ways, like the most demanding of mistresses,” as he confided in his journal on January 1, 1861.


IMG_4336 Another favourite is Delacroix’s ‘Liberty leading the people.’

Just outside the Saint-Sulpice, is a great little bistro/café where I choose to sit and watch the fountain, the church and all the passers-by. Don’t look for super food salads or main meals of the day here, it’s baguettes or sandwiches with the famous Poilané bread. Just Monsieur Croque and me.  Heavenly.

Time to go.  I know a little Ladurée shop few tourists know along the way.  There are a few items I would rather buy in Paris, for they are Paris, and pure delight in choosing my six flavours, which include Pistachio, Noisette, Citron, Rose, Morello cherry and Pistachio again. Also stop at Caudalie to stock up before a quick stop to the shops below the Louvre.  The Louvre is not somewhere you want to be over Easter, with hoards of school children and throngs of tourists, so I veer to the right to say ‘hello’ to the girls looking down on the scene. The Louvre is best seen in the Winter, as she opens.


They may be a little tattered, like me in Silver Street, but I love them.  Earned my respect.

Once final browse through Delfonics to drool over the stationery and it’s back to the Gare Du Nord for my trip back to London. It has been a day of beauty, of culture, a day of dreaming and feeling romantic, in great company and I cannot wait to do it again.

À bientôt xxx

Image of Wisteria, Elle.


A funny thing happened on the way to explaining …the Waitrose token in South Africa

images-110  Local is lekker as they say in Afrikaans.  Local is great. The many South African cultures are filled with superstition, local lingo and nuances that make each one so special.  I learn from them everyday.

This evening, whilst looking for change at the till, the assistant watched carefully as I scrummaged to find local coins amongst the pence in my purse.

‘What is that Mama?’  He asked, pointing to a twenty pence coin. Mama is a sign of respect.

‘It’s English money.’ I said.  He frowned.  ‘What is English money?’ he asked.

I had to stop and think about this.  English is a language, so how to explain that the money is from a country?  See we just accept things so easily.  I began to tell him that the money is from England and he listened carefully before asking me why the money from England is in my purse.

‘I live there.’  I replied but he was quick to tell me my accent is South African.  Why was I living there if I come from here he wanted to know.  The man was too intelligent for me.  How to explain again I thought, and wondered if mentioning the past weeks political upheaval would suffice, not that this was the reason we moved to England.

‘My family live there.’ I said. When he asked me why I was here I blurted out ‘to see my family.’ You can imagine how confusing that may seem to one who knows little of Europe and the reasons we live so far apart from one another, yet commute and visit all the time.  More questions about England.  Then he asked me what the shiny one was in my hand.

‘It is a trolley token from Waitrose.’ I offered.

Asking if he could see it, the money with the hole in it, he asked how much it was worth.

‘Nothing really, you use it in your trolley.’

‘It is worth nothing?’ he asked. ‘It is so lovely.’ he said.

Note to self.  Trolleys in South Africa do not require a token to free from the chain, to be used, put back and token retrieved till next time.  Again, how to explain?  The man has all the time in the world, studied the token as if holding a diamond and smiled brightly as he held it to his chest and asked me if he could have it. It would look good on a chain he said. To him it meant something special.

For a moment I wondered about my token.  If I gave it to him, would I be able to get another one?  I relished my Waitrose token, searched for it when I needed it and held onto it, for the most stupid reason and here was a man who thought the token worth a great deal.  Instead I offered him a one pound coin, saying it was worth about twenty rand and it was my gift to him.  Twenty rand he whispered, magic indeed.

He thanked me and asked me if he could go to England and get lots of these coins.  And the Waitrose one for himself.  He would like many Waitrose tokens for his chain.

‘You would not like England’ I suggested.  ‘It’s cold and dark most of the time.’

‘I need Ilanga.’  The sun, he said, but I will come with you next time.’ he grinned.  ‘In the suitcase.’

There I was, defending my Waitrose token, trying to explain why money was English and that I lived far from my family, with my family in a country that had little sun.  I was the one feeling foolish but his curiosity about another world, small things, the wonder of it all, hit me deeply in my heart.  I had forgotten to be fascinated.  This man was fascinated and wanted to know more.  I thought I knew it all, and therein lies the lesson.  People such as he, in South Africa, are the salt of the earth, grounded, hardworking and still curious about life and all the things he had never dreamed of.  Things I took for granted.

I handed him my Waitrose token. He thought I had given him a precious gift.

As I left, he said: ‘ Come back mama, when the darkness is heavy and you need the sun.  Bring me another one of these to hang about my neck. It is worth much.’

It is worth much.  It, is worth much.

Instinctively I reached out to greet him as is the African way of grasping hands, twisting palms and back to the handshake, as was the honourable way to pay my respect. I may be the global citizen, but I left there feeling that I still have so much to learn.  Fascination at the small things for starters.

Walking out into the car park, I greeting the car guards (a very South African thing) in French.  Migrants from the French Congo who spend all day in the blistering sun watching cars for money. There is another story is this. Migrants who speak French and know little about France. It is another South African gem. As I said, one never stops learning and this country tell me so.

A charming afternoon.