Seven months in beautiful South Africa.

The winter is back this afternoon, a last bite and bluster outside. An afternoon for being in the study, watching the rain from a cosy distance, although the one thing I shall remember, or had forgotten, is how cold my house is. Never here for the cold time, I have yet to invest in fireplaces or underfloor heating – sometimes it is warmer outside than in, but the summers suit the house so I just wrap another shawl around my shoulders and have been known to wear a beanie and gloves at the desk.

The trip was meant to be a few weeks.  Covid and cancellations, plus the dreaded HMP Boris of hotel quarantining resulted in months of being away from my children, work and London. Yet I have embraced being back, mainly because the natural light in this country is like no other.  The healing power of the sun, space, fresh air and nature is a wonderful combination – I have rested, received my vaccinations and spread the wings a little further this time, all deeply rewarding.

Armed with rolls of Sanderson wallpaper in my suitcase, the Fruit Orchard changed the walls of my bedroom into a dreamy space.  For years, this house was a rental, we were here once or twice and never bothered to show her some love, after all, how long do we keep her? The decision to wallpaper rooms, paint furniture and bring out our family history was a conscious choice – it doesn’t matter how long I shall be in one place or another, each moment should be owned, and cherished.  The house at the top of the hill, is now a personal sanctuary which brings more to my life that just being back in the country of my birth.  I am surrounded by my past.  My grandparents, parents, loved ones moved on, all have been taken lovingly from boxes to share this house.  The choices are deliberate – grief gone, no longer sentimental about every little memory but carefully choose the essence of the person and invite these items to join my present day.

The first was dealing with all things I did not love, but felt guilty about sending to new pastures.  Instead I selected one or two tapestries, had them made into cushions and donated the rest.  Stories of winter afternoons and my mother, needle in and needle out, comfort on the sofa in the living room.  Photos lingered over, many tears, but now less of a museum and conversations with the dead to inspire gratitude in the present. My children’s childhood favourites remain, yet I feel it is time for them to claim and mine to pass on. This is a European home, influenced by my Dutch heritage, the Delft vases showcasing the last of the iceberg roses beside the bookcase my grandfather carved.

There lives here now, a great sense of calm and sweet memory.

The silent months were not spent only between these walls, though I swear this is the longest I have had my own company.  Though cautious, I chose to get to know this Cape Province where I have touched but a few months in a decade, and explore more of her.  Here now lives my oldest friends, grow up, grazed knee, drive-in on a Friday night friends – all within a short distance of this house.  We joined a hiking group and it soon became a silent addiction.  I have yet to fully explain the joy of finding trails to end in views of God’s design, one cannot, only to say that being out there, with others like myself, has been a great joy.  New friends. Likewise with the gym – and I am not a ardent runner or anything ungainly like that, but joined the aqua group early each morning.  Forget the stereotype of ladies and men in swimming caps, the tactile thrill of moving through tepid swirls of water cleansed not only my body but washed my soul. Drives to sun drenched wine farms to wait until the last of the afternoon slipped behind pink mountains, to laundered waves crashing on beaches, spraying sea rain over penguins, cormorants and dassies more patient than I shall ever be. Nature here in Africa is strong, bold and unapologetic.

There are poems in the sleepy towns.  Ghosts of good and not so good, unmarked graves, slave bells and main street dirt. Driving with mountain ranges for guidance, whipped treacle cattle in butter yellow fields. These days has been the changing of me.

The rain is heavier now, lashing the window pane, making the ivy and rosemary dance. I am drinking a Milt Tart flavoured cappucino, decadently sweetened but where else would you find a Milt Tart flavoured cappucino and not be able to resist?  Daily walks to the finest food store in the world, Woollies for rusks, samosas, strong coffee and shopping here has me wanting to lie down on a bed of roses amongst the peppers and proteas, right next to the genuinely ripe avocados. Best evenings of wine on the ‘stoep’ at my friend’s house and pizza evenings with the neighbours. I have Mugged and Beaned, Spur worshipped and licked my fingers over Steer’s chips.  Even the biltong, for a not so much meat eater, has been the traditional choice for watching rugby. Every missed morsel, that I can only find in those sad South African stores in the city, looks brighter and happier to be here.

In two weeks time I fly back to London.  Back home to my family.  These seven months have been so lovely, yet my family are everything. The house will fall silent, the ghosts left to their own conversations and I am sure they shall have a lot to talk about.