Friday, 27 February 2009

Happy Birthday Elaine

On Wednesday Elaine turned 29 - the age that she intends to remain forever according to her!

Elaine was awake at 0630hrs and started ripping at her presents approximately 30 seconds later. As I always cover everything in sellotape the unwrapping process lasted at least 2 minutes! I love watching how frustrated she gets when she can't find a way past the wrapping paper and eventually fetches a kitchen knife to gain access - small pleasures!

We took the day off from sticking small pieces of tile to 'the pond' and headed off into Cape Town for a bit of tourism!

First up we drove to Signal Hill and were treated to great views of the sea mist rolling over Sea Point, Robben Island, Green Point Stadium (being built for the 2010 football World Cup) and the City itself. The paragliders were already out, taking the quick route down! You also get a magnificent view of Table Mountain from here.

Then it was the short drive to the Table Mountain Cable Car for a trip to the top, well the drive was short but the walk back from the parking for Jon was long!

Elaine found out that it pays to tell people it is your birthday as she was given a complimentary ride, added to the fact that I have a valid bona fide student card we had a very cheap journey! As we had saved quite a bit of money we decided that we should treat ourselves to a bottle of Champagne (which can't be called Champagne due to EU protection even though the SA 'methode cap classique' is better than the French version - obviously i've got to say that as a true Brit) and some snacks. Lovely! Happy Birthday in style!

I had a bit of a bizarre experience while we were enjoying our champagne. A couple sat on the table next to us and there was something very familiar about one of them. After a few seconds I was convinced I was right and moved into their line of sight saying 'hello Tom'. What a strange place to bump into a work colleague! For those of you who know him (sorry to those who don't) Tom Joyner was there visiting his sister. They had been far more energetic than us and had walked up the mountain! What a small world!

As the mist had cleared we took a walk around the top of the mountain, really just like a great big table top and enjoyed the views and even spotted where the 'bakkie' was parked, 'miles' from the cable station!

Eventually it was time to head back closer to sea level by cable car again. I forgot to mention that the floor of the cars rotate as they make their journey. Very cool. This is also a pretty steep run as can be seen below! Definately not for those of you who don't like heights!

Once we got to the bottom we quickly popped to Long Street so that Elaine could spend some of her birthday money. Suprise surprise she is now the proud owner of yet another multi-coloured handbag!! (Elaine wants you all to know that it is a flabbergasting, stupendously smashing 'Mielie'handbag, infact the one on the right!

By this time it was 1600hrs and time we got back to Stellenbosch in the rush hour traffic - just like home! We got home about an hour later and got ready for Elaine's parents, brother André and friends Shanien and Larah. Caramel and custard cake, peppermint tart and champagne were enjoyed on the gazebo, which made a change from Bloody Mary's!!

To round off the day we went to Cognito's for a nice meal. Just to add to the list of freebies for the day we met one of Elaine's friends there who had been entertaining clients at the restaurant so we were treated to some of their canapés and drinks before taking our seats and being offered a complimentary cocktail for the birthday girl! The food and wine were excellent, Kudu (type of deer) for me, beef for Elaine and a bottle of Rainbow's End Shiraz, made by Anton Malan, Elaine's brother's best friend!

What a great day!

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

It's not funny anymore

37 degrees celsius today that's 99 degrees in old money.

No mosaic work between 1100 and 1500 today, that's for sure, in fact no nothing!

We could do with some serious rain to be honest. Stellenbosch has already had a couple of mountain fires and Somerset West just down the road is thick with smoke where fires have been burning, seemingly out of control, for 2 weeks now. Fortunately it appears that no-one has been hurt though so there is some good news.

Mosaic Progress Report

I can report that making a mosaic is a slow process but very theraputic!

After enjoying the company of the pavers for the last two weeks they are now finished and we are into full time mosaic construction. I'm Elaine's cement mixer and tile cutter, she is in charge of all of the skilled elements of the work! We have all had a little go and decided (or Elaine has decided) that it is best if we leave it to her!

We have now hit the halfway mark and should be totally finished by next week. It is looking stunning as I'm sure you will agree.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Meiring is 40!

Once again it has been a while since our last update, no excuses, we are feeling lazy!

Meiring celebrated his 40th birthday the weekend before last with a 'spit braai'. This was a new type of braai experience for me to go with charcoal, wood, indoor, outdoor etc etc! There's lots of work involved but it is a fantstic way to enjoy a day and eat some great meat, sorry to any vegetarians out there but South Africans LOVE their meat!

I got roped in to the work side of the day early when I bumped into Meiring at the local supermarket. He had just bought the entire stock of charcoal and needed a hand transporting it! As I had already dropped Elaine off I filled the 'bakkie' with braai equipment and headed round to Meiring and Linda's house to deliver it.

After carrying in bags and bags of charcoal we erected 3 spits and started the fires! Meiring set about attaching the sheep (lambs I suppose) to the metal frames ready for a good few hours turning and gently cooking to perfection.

This of course gave everybody else plenty of time to position themselves around the braai, shield themselves from the sun and get on with some serious socialising!

Meiring was not alone in only having the use of one hand at the party, it seems that South Africans are also prone to breaking bones!

The food was absolutely delicious, I think it is the closest to a 'meat feast' that I've experienced. Fabulous.

After an evening of drinking and debating why exactly the Boer War was my personal fault with some of the drunken SA gang Elaine and I made our wobbly way home happy and well fed!

Happy Birthday Meiring!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Let the children play!

We've had the pavers in for the last week or so and on Thursday they covered the back yard in sand ready to start laying cobbles on Friday. It was just like having our own beach surrounding 'the pond'.

Sitting outside having a coffee with Ninja and Stoffel we started talking about how we actually liked the idea of having a beach and how we would come to miss it eventually. Naturally one thing led to another and we built a huge sandcastle complete with guard ducks and security fencing!

How old are we?!!!

We decided that the castle should remain standing to greet the workmen when they arrived on site at 0700hrs the following morning. Obviously unable to sleep due to the excitement we were all up and about at 0630hrs!

When the workmen arrived they looked a little bemused to say the least. Their nervous smiles gave the fact away that they now think we are all stark raving mad. Funnily enough they seemed to work very quickly on Friday in an attempt to get the job finished and leave!!

Friday, 13 February 2009

Up The Creek Music Festival

It's Friday again and we seem to be a week behind in our blog....again!

Last weekend was spent at the Up The Creek Music Festival near Swellendam which is about 200km east of Stellenbosch.

We set off from home at about 1300hrs for the 2-2.5 hour drive but within half an hour we had run into the first set of roadworks just outside Somerset West. We didn't realise it at the time but this would be the first of many! Once again the scenery was absolutely stunning though I'm now getting used to it and spend a little less time saying 'wow'!

Eventually we got to our turning and it was time for me to drive on a 'dirt' road for the first time. For 'dirt' read 'rock and boulder' and you'll have some idea of what the poor 'bakkie' was put through for 20kms. Bits of the road were bad, some very bad and the rest terrible, a proper dusty boneshaker of a journey but very enjoyable!

Once we had checked in and had our tasteful green armbands applied it was time for us, as first ones there, to stake out and claim a suitable campsite for ourselves and everyone who would be arriving after us. What we thought was a nice spot (despite a few rocks and a bit of a slope!) was claimed and we sat and waited. Minutes later Ninja and Stoffel arrived and, as UTC veterans, identified a far better spot which we duly moved to!

Over the next few hours more and more people arrived and our little tented village took shape. Linda and Meiring (who had earlier that day attempted to cut off his little finger and spent some time in the hospital being stitched up!) arrived with the tent which Elaine and I were borrowing and we were all set. Then it was time for a quick bite to eat and off to the main stage for some entertainment.

I'm not sure what time we eventually collapsed in bed but the bands were still going strong at 0300hrs and we drifted off to sleep to the reggae sounds of Tidal Waves.

We were woken up very early on Saturday morning (6 ish) by one of the most annoying laughs we have ever heard! The people behind us (not part of our group) were up and ready to party but one poor unfortunate girl had a laugh that could curdle milk! Seeing that Stoffel was already up (or maybe hadn't gone to bed) I joined him and left Elaine in the tent with her earplugs!

Coffee soon led to the inevitable 'hair of the dog' hangover cures and the day started! Ninja made Bloody Marys and Stoffel beheaded a watermelon, mashed up the pulp and made a cocktail out of whatever was to hand. When she woke up Elaine thought that this was a very agreeable breakfast indeed!

Following breakfast it was time to blow up the inflatable devices ready for a morning of floating on the river and listening to music. Elaine had 'Puff' the Dragon (a cousin of 'Frodo' for those of you in the know), Ninja had a fantastic Butterfly and I had a boring but highly manoeverable lilo! Equipped with inflatables, plastic drinking bottles, sun screen and bubbles for Elaine we set off to the river for a paddle!

The river was full of people and their collection of inflatables though the current meant that it was impossible to stay still so the bands who were due to play there actually played on the main stage up the hill. We didn't mind, we could hear the music and were all happy! I spent most of my time acting as a tug boat for 'Puff' who turned out to be pretty difficult to control and nearly impossible for Elaine to move at speed!

As the day wore on the temperature just kept rising, definately one of the hottest days I have experienced here. I'm not sure how the guys running the industrial sized Braai managed to do it but hats off to them they kept the food coming!

Later in the afternoon and evening we spent lots of time watching bands, all of whom I thought were great though some obviously were better than others! For me special mentions go to Boulevard Blues Band, Dan Patlansky, The Plastics (definitely influenced by the Arctic Monkeys), Blues Broers, Taxi Violence (angle grinder showering the crowd with sparks) and Wonderboom (with their insane drummer!).

Just to round a great day off we were treated to some typical British festival weather....... RAIN! It was great! The South Africans didn't seem too pleased to see it but I loved it, just like home! It wasn't enough to create the huge mud baths of Glastonbury but........ For some reason or other (it was late, we had been drinking etc) Elaine and I decided that we should sleep in the Bakkie that night and so moved our bedding from the tent and went off to see one last band before collapsing!

Predictably I woke up feeling pretty uncomfortable on Sunday morning with my feet hanging out of the back door of the canopy being lightly toasted by the morning sun! Elaine of course had snored her way through the night in perfect comfort. We 'broke camp' in preparation for departure later that afternoon and headed back off to the river again for a swim (or wash as I like to call it!). Some more music, a hotdog and some pancakes (pannekoek) were sampled before saying our goodbyes to those still left and we started the long slog back to Stellenbosch, this time avoiding all of the roadworks!

We both thoroughly enjoyed our first 'Up The Creek' experience and will not doubt be back for more in the future. The event was very well organised and we were well provided for. Perhaps the thing that gives this event such a special feel is that there is a limit of 2000 tickets, this makes it feel quite intimate and gives you the opportunity to mix with fellow festivalgoers and the bands themselves. All in all a brilliant weekend.

If you would like to see some more then have a little look here - Up The Creek Music Festival - Channel 24 - if you look closely you will see Elaine and 'Puff' during the first clip!

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Catch up on the rest of the week!

Following the Braai we got up late and said goodbye to Katie (well Elaine did, I was still asleep) who was leaving the same day for London and the forcast of snow.

The obligatory Bloody Mary's helped to wake us up and then it was time for Elaine and I to head off to Linda and Meiring's to warm up some of the leftover meat from the Braai. A swim in the pool was just what the doctor ordered followed by yet more steak! Sunday night was one of the best night's sleep we have both ever had!

Monday was very quiet, just chilling in the sun at home and watching DVDs before going to bed.

Tuesday - A very productive day shopping for inflatables and supplies for the 'Up the Creek' Music Festival this weekend (more on that when we come back). We got a lilo and a Dragon for ourselves and a huge Shark for Meiring. It should be fun!

Wednesday - Lunch with Elaine's parents at the Skilpadvlei Wine Estate for a delicious Waterblommetjiebredie (Cape Asparagus and Lamb Stew).

Then off to Cape Town for 'eat as much as you can' Sushi with Elaine's friends Nadia, Lise and Flippie. We barely got past the first two platters before giving up! We are definitely going there again but next time we will not eat for at least two days before going! We slept in Cape Town at Lise's.

Thursday - more tile shopping on the way back from Cape Town then the excitement of the pond being filled with water for the first time. We added our present to Ninja and Stoffel, a family of rubber ducks, and had a paddle! The fountain will be fitted later today then next week it will be full steam ahead with the mosaic.

When we wake up later we'll be of to 'Up The Creek' for the weekend so we'll see you all next week!

Well, that's it. You are now up to date! More when we get back on Monday.

Have a great weekend and enjoy the snow to those of you in the UK!

Love J&E

Cracking Braai

After the carnival and tile shopping it was time to get ready for the 'Hello Elaine, goodbye Reinette Braai'.

Now I was a little nervous as Stoffel insisted that as the Braai was for Elaine and that he was actually attending as a guest rather than house owner, it was up to me to Braai! Whilst I love burning things and consider myself to be pretty good at it the 25 or so guests wouldn't be too happy if I did that to their steaks, sausages and chicken! Time for some tips!

Eventually the time came, people started arriving, meat started arriving and I built a nice stack of wood and set fire to it! Obviously the Braai is a national institution here and the debates started regarding the size and shape of the wood, which bits could have been better placed etc etc. I soon came to realise that there is no set method and that everyone does it differently depending who taught them and where they learnt. Stoffel taught me right here!

After an eternity the fire had burnt down enough to create lots of hot embers and it was time to start to braai the meat. This is where I needed some guidance but Stoffel had deliberately disappeared! Thankfully Johan was on hand, not only to give advice, but to lend a significant helping hand. Thanks to his help everything went pretty smoothly and everyone seemed to enjoy the food.

The evening really got going when Stoffel miraculously reappeared and told us that ALL of the stockpile of wood would have to be burnt up. Some of it had woodworm and Stoffel and Ninja didn't want it to be transferred to the soon to be built new deck. Now what do a group of men do when they are told to burn ALL of they wood? They burn ALL of the wood in ONE GO! You couldn't get within 3 metres of the Braai because of the heat and flames were shooting out of the chimney!

A few weeks ago the Braai was repainted and looked brand new. A few hours after the 'bonfire' it was slightly scorched and had a series of new cracks to the chimney! Fortunately Stoffel (well it was his fault afterall) and Ninja see this as 'added character' and are pleased with the look! Quite literally a 'cracking braai'!

Student Carnival

With Thursday night out of the way I assume that most of the students spent Friday in bed or preparing their floats for the carnival marking the end of 'freshers' week.

All of the new students have spent a week being 'initiated' by their more senior colleagues. It's all pretty straightforward really, they are forced to wear the same clothes, get marched around town, made to do menial tasks and generally introduced to the ways of their particular 'Res', all very amusing to see when you are popping down to the shops for some milk!

On Saturday morning parts of the town centre were cordoned off by the police and lined by thousands of expectant locals and students. We found a good spot near the start of the procession route and caught a few morning rays whilst we waited. I amused myself watching two guys preaching to the crowd about sin with very little response. Tough crowd students! They seemed happy enough though as they made sure they took pictures of ech other holding the banner! Isn't 'Pride' one of the seven deadly sins?

Eventually in the distance we could see batons twirling and bands marching so we prepared ourselves for the 'floats' which the students had designed and built. One by one lorries disguised as all manner of things trundled by and the onlookers showered them with loose change (though in the case of the medical students it was more like 'pelted' - not sure why!). I'm not sure who pays for all of this but they were pretty impressive, Fred Flintstone in a Ferrari being one particular favorite.

Elaine took some gentle abuse when a float called the 'Toaster' came past as this is the nickname given to our house after it burnt down a few years ago when Elaine lived here!

Then it was time to head off to Cape Town to buy mosaic tiles. Ninja and Elaine enjoyed themselves doing this, Stoffel and Jon were bored!!

Tax Dodgers!

Sorry there's been no update for a while but we've been a bit busy!

Stellenbosch has a student population of something like 22,000 (some say 35,000 but I can't find that mentioned online!) and last week they started back! No more easy parking in the town centre and traffic jams that Birmingham City Council would be proud of!

Last week was the equivalent of 'freshers' week at home where all the new students arrive with their Mercedes driving parents, find their halls (called a Res here) and start to party.

The tradition on the Thursday is to decorate the windows of each 'res' for the locals to come and see, this is known as 'Vensters' (Windows). The modern practice is to build a massive stage outside the Res and put on a show. I'm not sure how many Res's there are here but there must have been 20 shows to go and see, so we did. Elaine, Ninja, Stoffel, Rei and myself, armed with plastic drinks bottles full of wine (drinking on the street is illegal here), joined the thousands of other people on the streets and walked from Res to Res watching the surprisingly well produced shows.

Stoffel and I then got a little bored and made our way to one of the student bars (via a superb 'bunny girl' show - our favorite of the night) and blended in as 'mature' students while the others carried on walking from show to show.

Once the students finished performaing, as they had been doing every 20 minutes for most of the day, it got pretty busy so we headed home feeling well entertained.