Divine Water – 1

We live in one of the more water scarce parts of South Africa and in a region that is drought-prone.  Water scarcity and drought are nothing new to The Husband and I. He grew up and farmed in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). Water and farming?  Cattle must drink and eat.  One of his responsiblities on the ranch included the management and maintenance of his section’s boreholes, pumps and reservoirs.  In addition to the thousands of kilometres of fence and the thousands of head of cattle.

Me? My understanding of the water issue is, shall we say, a little closer to home.  I must have been about eight or nine – 1972 or 3 – and drought struck Grahamstown (now Makhanda) with severe water restrictions.  A couple of things happened:  my father transformed the annual plantings in the botanical gardens he ran, from thirsty, to not-so-thirsty plants – in those parts of the gardens not already planted with hardy annuals and indigenous flora.  I encountered ornamental cabbages (kale) for the first time.  It will forever bring back memories of that very dry patch in my then very short life.

Ornamental Kale (Source)

The necessary digression about the Dad’s work is because it did give us an alternative supply of water.  From the Douglas dam.  This water was reticulated through the entire botanical garden and into our garden. The house in which we lived “belonged” to the botanical gardens and we literally went through the back gate and into them.

Although this water was brown and not fit for human consumption, we could use it for bathing and flushing toilets.  And we did.  Dad rigged up a large black pipe which snaked through the bathroom window.  It had an on/off valve with what seemed like a very large red wheel handle.  The house had one bathroom (and four bedrooms which is another story) and no shower.  For a while, and mercifully, it was summer, we washed and cleaned ourselves in plastic bowls.  A practice still used by people where there is no running water and which remains all too common in this country and other parts of the world.


This was the garden as it was when we moved in. When we had visited a month earlier, the grass was long and dry; a fire hazard. The garden, cleared, these photographs (proof of work) show the canvas we had to work with. Photo: Shaun King

When we moved to McGregor, we knew that we were moving to a village in a rain shadow, and where water was scarce.  The first couple of years that we lived here, rain and water were abundant.

The garden, which was rather like a desert when we arrived, needed both water and TLC.  Lulled into a false sense of security, it got both.

Developing a vegetable patch was a not-negotiable and, for reasons not relevant now, there was a hiccough before we settled on the ultimate location and laid it out.  When it finally happened, about eight months after we moved in, it was prolific.

Not satisfied, well, that’s only part of the story, we bought the adjacent plot and started working that, too (pictured top right).  At the time, the price of municipal water was relatively inexpensive and we could afford to fling it around with gay abandon.  And we did.  Well, sort of.  The garden flourished and five years later, in 2016, we participated in McGregor’s annual open garden festival with a tea garden.

However, dry times were ahead.  Literally.  The province was in the grips of the worst drought in living memory and about a month later, the municipality instituted water restrictions.  Garden watering was prohibited.  Daily consumption for household use was limited, with penalties for using more than the 15 kilolitre limit:  the more you used, the higher the rate.  We kept alive what we could.  Precious plants were transferred to pots, out of the blazing sun, close to the house.  The Husband installed a grey water system:  any and all water we could harvest went into the vegetable garden.

For an effective three years, we could not water the garden.

It was soul destroying.

What goes up must come down, or vice versa, right?

The Husband, as I keep on saying, ranched.  The section which he managed was also the regional weather station so recording rainfall and the daily minimum and maximum temperatures was part of the job.  The Dad’s job required the same.  My mother wrote the data on the back of her cigarette box.  In her office, she transferred them on to graph paper plastered on her office walls.  This background, coupled with my degree in Geography meant that a rudimentary weather station would happen at The Sandbag House. Eventually.  It was “complete” with the installation of the rain gauge in 2013.  The Husband’s diligence and excellent spreadsheets show some interesting trends.  Recording began about half way through 2013, and although it was a wet year, it wasn’t as wet as 2012 when I had virtually lived in my wellies.

Then the rain stopped.  For all intents and purposes.  We live in a Mediterranean climate with rain, theoretically,  delivered during our winter (mid-year).  However, there is the odd thunderstorm which is accompanied by really heavy downpours that can dump over 100 mm of water on the village in a couple of hours.  These episodes are not always useful because the water runs away, taking top soil with it.  All of that said, and even though there’s been more rain this year, and the drought has broken, the trend is downwards.

Is this climate change?  I’m beginning to think so, especially when we look at the temperatures – recorded over a slightly longer period.

In summary, the days are getting warmer – across the seasons.  The nights, by comparison, are warmer during winter – we’ve had less frost and snow – and cooler during summer.  The latter is most certainly true of this year, to date. A word about this summer (2019 – 2020), The Husband notes that this has been the hottest November and December that we’ve experienced since we’ve been here and, traditionally, February is the hottest month of the summer;  February 2019 was very hot.  This suggests that the upward trend continues.

What is even more interesting is the increase in the number of days when the maximum temperature is 30°C or higher. Also an upward trend.


Looking at these figures – hardly scientific – and considering them in conjunction with what the United Nations and other authorities are saying about climate change, our figures simply reflect the world trend.  Drought and ongoing water scarcity will become a fact of life.

Long term sustenance

When we started 2019, we entered the third year of drought.  Our garden had returned to its 2011 dust bowl status.  Although we did manage to grow chillies and tomatoes, Swiss chard and the odd lettuce, we had to buy in most of our vegetables.  Winter crops like beans were easier, but the brassicas (broccoli and cauliflower), not so much.  The garden was not nearly as productive as it had been.

I felt as desolate as the garden.

The dust bowl that used to be our front garden

Serendipitously, something happened in June that enabled us to think about how we might go about harvesting our own water.

That, though, is its own story (in a few episodes) which will follow in the next few months.

A last look at 2019

Perhaps it’s apt that my last post of 2019 is one of hope:  water is life and as long as there is life there is hope.  Reflecting on the last three years, they have been difficult.  Not just because of the drought, but because of decisions I had to take.  There have been reluctant new approaches and new beginnings.  This year has seen some settling and consolidation.  For the first time in a few, the blank canvas of a new year has a certain appeal.

There are a few green shoots – not just in the garden as it now begins to flourish.  Again.

Until next time
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

I first published this on 22 December 2019, but because of what I explain here, I’ve had to re-claim it from one of the other platforms on which it was posted at the time.

In addition to WordPress I blog on –

  • Steemit – a crypto, social network and blogging platform, to which I post from WordPress using the SteemPress plugin.
    • If you’d also like to use your WordPress blog to earn crypto, join us on SteemPress by clicking the graphic below.

  • Instagram is a mostly visual platform where I post microblogs about fluff:  usually food and the cats; posts that sometimes promise hint about future WordPress posts.

Tremendous Trees – II

In 2016, The Husband did a bit of work for the friends of the local nature reserve, Vrolijkheid.  He moved the visitor’s kiosk from one spot to another and generally refurbished it.  During the course of the job, the concrete slab had to be damped down twice daily.  One Saturday afternoon, I went along with him.  Camera in hand.


The dry, hot summer had taken its toll. The veld was tinder dry and the mountains clear in the afternoon distance.

This magnificent Karee provides shade from the baking sun in the car park.  Notwithstanding my fascination with all trees, the thorn trees in the shady picnic area attracted my particular attention that afternoon.  Vrolikheid

First, the lichen invited a closer inspection.  Received understanding is that lichen is a good indicator of the prevailing winds because it grows on the leeward side of the trees.  Not so, in the heart of this grove, where it grows on the inside of each nest of acacia tree trunks.  Away from any weather.


Wandering between the trees, these acacias captured me.

Back to Vrolijkheid and Acacia Karroo.  These trees are beautifully old and they drip with resin which, as children, we used to eat.  As I recall, it had a tangy sort of pine flavour and was soft and sticky;  a bit like toffee.  Besides the acacia being a legume with all the benefits of nitrogen-fixing for the soil, it turns out that the Sweet Thorn does have nutritional and medicinal qualities (leaves and pods on which animals browse). The resin was at one point, exported as “Cape Gum” for use in confectionary.*

The colours of the dripping gum are beautiful.  It forms the most magnificent stalactites that deposit resin onto mounds of wannabe stalagmites on the ground below. Unless you are looking for them, though, the gummy piles are well camouflaged.

The deep colour of the weeping bark contrasts with the silver-grey lichen and reminded me of amber.  It made me wonder whether, perhaps, this oozing red gold might be how it starts out.  It might be.

After The Husband had finished the job, he wanted to show me his handiwork, so late one blustery Sunday afternoon, we trundled down to have a look.

As we left, the sun was setting and the southeaster was pouring over the mountains.

* For more about Acacia Karro, growing habit and uses

Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • First posted in April 2016 and now with updated photographs.
  • I’m participating in blogpal @tracyork’s April challenge of sharing a post every day during April – on the Hive blockchain. I succeeded last year – on Steemit from which the new blockchain “hived off”…
  • It seems a good way to constructively use the time during a compulsory lock down, right? For more about this initiative, please check out Traci’s post.

  • If you’d also like to both join the challenge and post from the WordPress platform to the Hive blockchain, sign up here.
  • I’m still blogging on Steem and more recently share my burbling on Uptrennd.


From drab, dull and mostly grey to astonishing colour

It often amazes me how out of things seemingly unsightly, dull and ugly, beauty emerges. I have mentioned a spot we often visit and which is home not just to a fabulous spot for eating lunch, but is also the working gallery and home to a glassblower and his artist wife.

Outside his barn studio, hangs this copper kettle

An artist’s place of work is one of contrasts:  apparently untidy, seemingly uninspiring, but very organised.

The “rowing” chair on which the artist sits and works with the molten glass, painstakingly forming it into the shape it ought to be
The long, metal rods resting in the water
One of three furnaces
The glass that falls off as they work.  This tray is on the floor next to the chair, three photos up.

On one of our recent visits, we had the privilege of watching the master and his team at work.  These are just three examples:

Outside the barn door, in the elements
In a deep window
On a glass shelf


A word about the photos of the interior of barn

Visitors to the barn are not permitted far into the barn where David Reade and his team work, so all of these photographs were taken from a distance, and using the quite limited zoom of my camera.  I was struck by the dominance of black, white and grey in that space, in contrast with the colours that eventually emerge.  Consequently, I thought that those photographs would be and interesting entry into Cee’s Black and White Photo Challenge.


I will share more of David Reade and his team at work in another post.

Post Script

Having entered this challenge, I was delighted that Fiona’s Favourites and this post was selected as one of Cee’s featured bloggers.


© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Odds and ends – I

Sometimes life overtakes us.

So it has been for me in the last ten days.  The day job and the project on which I’ve been working, seems to be taking an eternity to come to an end, have taken me to Johannesburg and back.  I’ve been at my desk for ten or so hours a day.

I’m not getting to many of my favourite things, including Fiona’s Favourites and blogging.  Quite a few things are falling through the cracks.  Bear with me.

In the meantime, here is a selection of some  photographs that don’t fit into any particular theme, but which I rather like.


A black and white bee-eater on the back of a wrought iron chair in our garden.

SAM_5740.JPGBlossoms from a tree collecting in the agave underneath it.  I loved the clean, sharp lines of the leaves and the textures in this photograph.


One of my favourite decorations for the Christmas tree;  it’s handmade and I bought it, along with a few similar ones from a craft market about ten years ago.

If you were waiting for me to share the passata recipe, I’m sorry.  The passata’s done, and so am I.  Tomorrow’s another day, and next weekend is a holiday weekend.  Let’s see how things unfold:  watch this space!

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Magic Melon III

There is something magic about a clear night sky, the moon and stars.  Just after last year’s winter solstice, the sky was a cold, crisp and clear with a crescent moon; Venus and Jupiter very, very close by.

The north-west night sky

Then there is the magic of dawn and the equal splendour of light associated with heavy rain showers.  We had both, together.

From the porch looking towards o the driveway
View, up, to the west, whence the rain had come – in buckets

Even Melon wasn’t going to miss the magic!


A closing comment:  Since acquiring my new camera, I’ve been learning how to use it.  The only one of these pictures that was somewhat “doctored”, other than the odd crop, was the one of Melon.


Updated as an entry to “Hugh’s Weekly Photo Challenge: Week 15 – “Under” because when I read the topic of this week’s challenge, this old post came to mind – the sky, the trees and, of course, melon under the table!

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Tremendous Trees – I

I love trees, and trees are central to so many things in our lives, from paper to picnics.  They bring people together and drive them apart.  As humanity becomes more and more concerned about its future, trees become contentious and no more so than around our village, including when they (or bits of them have) to make way for the ubiquitous telephone and power lines.

Eucalypts are not indigenous to South Africa and, actually, few trees are indigenous to the Western Cape of South Africa, and particularly the biome in which we live.  Other than along river courses, where one sees beautiful, shady Karees, have no significant native trees occur in the  Cape Floristic region.  As a consequence, and for timber (furniture, fencing, firewood, etc.), Eucalypts were introduced from Australia.  They are magnificent, but in a region with young soils and little rain, they literally drain the earth of its lifeblood, water.  They have also become invasive, complicated by the fact that they release chemicals that change the soil profile and “scare” away indigenous flora.

The gum trees opposite our house through which I watch the clouds that herald the summer southeaster and the winter snow. The cold winter’s day that I took this photograph, we expected snow out of those dark clouds.

As some of you may have noticed, many of the photographs taken from The Sandbag House feature power and telephone lines.  The view through those gums, into the village, is no exception.

The view (…through the lines…), past our house, on another balmy, misty, early winter evening.  On the right is an avenue of Karees, also known as the “Karoo Wilge” (willow).

So, back to the controversy.  Early in 2015, there was a hue and cry:  the gums along the river that we cross on the way to the village were being removed.  Now, here’s the conundrum:  the earth and humanity need trees.  Lots of them.  I know that the earth is under threat.  But that doesn’t mean that every tree, as beautiful as it might be, should be allowed to wreak havoc on the indigenous flora and the natural water courses.  Those gum trees along the river had, over the years, choked out the Karees and the reeds, destroying the natural habitat for the local fauna and flora.  Little grew under them;  they also sucked up litres and litres of water that should have been staying in the earth, feeding the groundwater system.  It is the groundwater that the river and boreholes rely on during summer, and with the storage dams are essential for irrigation:  no irrigation and agriculture suffers which has another series of knock-on effects and which I shall not belabour.

All of that said, mature gum trees are beautiful, and there’s a favourite spot where, on the way home from Cape Town, The Husband and I enjoy a shady lunch and a glass of wine.  One of the trees is this magnificent gum.


Pathways and passages – I

February is a significant month:  I first published on Fiona’s Favourites this month, two years ago.  So after browsing through the photographs of my 1999 trip to Spain, for my last post, and thinking about time, I thought it useful to look back on what was, in some ways, was a rite of passage for me.

At the time, a few months before I met The Husband, I was in a very weird space.  That stay in Palma de Mallorca was the first real three-week holiday of my working life.  It was also a time of reflection and resolve.  When I looked at the photographs, last week, I realised that they were, in their own way, full of pathways and passages.

All were taken with (I think) a 35mm point and click camera which had been lent to me.  However, I’ve not scanned them either from the originals, or from the negatives (don’t exactly know where those are), rather I photographed them with my current camera and then tidied them up a little.  Very little – a lot less than I thought I’d have to.

Plaça del Banc de l’Oli, on the way to Carrer de l’Oli, where I stayed.

Hostal Peru, I was told, was a house of ill-repute.

Checking the plaça out on Google Maps, the building is still there, with its curtained windows, sans the sign, and the square looks a little more respectable than it did seventeen years ago.

Carrer de l’Oli

The street, in the Old City of Palma:  the building in which I stayed (on the fourth floor). The flower shop below is reflected in the windows across the way.  It was in a little spice shop down that road, to the left and up Carrer del Sindicat, that I bought my spices.

This was the view from the room in which I slept.


This old Roman house is where I had my first (of many a) cup of café con leche (coffee with milk), and which I passed regularly on my way to the Mercat de L’Olivar.

Gran Café Cappuccino, Carrer de Sant Miquel, Palma de Mallorca

Valdemossa fascinated me for a range of reasons:


The cobbled roads and the colours of neat homes with front doors that open directly on to the streets, each flanked with happy pots of flowers including geraniums which are, incidentally, indigenous to South Africa.


How long have these homes been here, I wondered, with their brilliant colours – the stones, wood, paint work, and more so, the fossils embedded in those walls?


The balcony gardens that one looks down on as one walks where Chopin and his lover, French writer George Sand did when they had sojourned in then vacant Carthusian Monastery.

CarthusianMonasteryGardenI was there in April, into May, so the beautiful monastery gardens were only just beginning to come into their own.

Equally fascinating was the trip from the village to its eponymous port.


The Virgin Mary watches over travellers between the village and the harbour;  she is perched so high up in the mountainside, I’d have missed her had I not been a passenger.


At the end of that precipitous road is the Mediterranean Sea and Valdemossa’s harbour with its boathouses carved into the cliffs.


Bunalbufar intrigued me, not just because, like Valdemossa, the village is perched atop the cliffs and it’s a proverbial day’s journey its the port below, but because of the terraces:  built by the Moor conquerors and not merely in evidence but still maintained and cultivated with citrus, olives and vines. From the deck of a bistro, aptly named Bella Vista, one can just glimpse the port at the bottom of the valley below.

Part of the answer to my question about the age of buildings, I discovered after trudging up the hill to Castell de Bellver.  This is the site of the island’s main fortress, and home to the ancient kings of Mallorca.   Elements of the building date back to before the birth of Christ, and like buildings on South Africa’s Robben Island, it has an interesting history, having served among other things, both as a royal residence, as well as a prison for royal and political prisoners.


This deep, tiny window looks from a room that might well have been a cell, down the battlements to the Mediterranean.


Another South African link: I was surprised, on my regular walks to the nearest Internet cafe, to pass this shop:  Biggie Best, an iconic South African home design company.


This 2000-year old olive tree in pride of place in the plaça, outside the post office and which, I think, had once been a court:  another sense of life, then and now.


I walked along many pathways and passages in Palma and around Mallorca.  At the bottom of the last hill that I climbed in Mallorca ….


this field of spring flowers.


© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

The Streets where I Live – I

When I travel on business, like I am this week, this is some of what I miss:  the streets where I live.

Our street: left from the gate
And right from the gate
And right from the gate
The long view - past the gate
The long view – past the gate
Some of the traffic
Some of the traffic…
...as they pass...
…as they pass…
...others stop to snack...
…others stop to snack…
Moods around the corner
Moods around the corner
A little further down the same road
Looking down the main road from our corner
Looking down the main road from our corner
Looking up towards the Road to Nowhere and our house…

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016

Time passages*

Just yesterday, it dawned on me that January, and nearly one-twelfth of the year, has nearly gone.  With that, this morning, we notice that the angle of the sun has changed – it’s moved north and west.

The windswept pile of puce bougainvillaea flowers – a harbinger of autumn

Funny how time surreptitiously passes us by and we don’t notice until something happens.

I get the sense that many of us, of a certain age, have had that driven home to us in the last few days, particularly with the deaths of David Bowie and Glen Frey.  Both made music that is integral to the soundtrack of my life and when I hear it, I’m instantly transported back to those times.  Good and not so good.  All part of the fabulous fabric of life.

And this, picture not-so-surreptitiously added in, is of the interior of bowl, a gorgeous gift from nearly a year ago, and which continues to fascinate me, for its shape, texture and colour.  A surreptitious entry into Hugh’s Weekly Photo Challenge.


Finally, one of my favourite Bowie songs.  Dunno why.  And it includes fabulous instrumental bits – sax, violin, piano.

Last word

This post, surreptitiously prepared while I should have been working, is thanks to Linda’s unsurreptitious suggestion that I do something with today’s Just Jot It January prompt.


*with apologies to Al Stewart

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016


Two thousand and sixteen.  It sounds like the title of a thirty-year-old sci-fi movie.  Except that it’s neither that nor the future, it’s now; this year “of our Lord” 2016.  In 1978, and as a fifteen-year-old, we were given an English composition assignment:  Portrait of myself in the year 2000.  Only ten years after the release of Stanley Kubrik’s iconic 2001:  A Space Odyssey, 2000 was more than half my then lifetime away;  being thirty-seven seemed inconceivable.  I saw in that year with my grieving father, in Grahamstown, drinking the largest Glenfiddich I have ever had the pleasure to drink.

One of my happiest memories with my parents. I had never seen Dad happier nor more proud.

LindaGHill_jjj-2016When I started writing this, I was in quite a reflective space, thinking about that school essay, what I wrote because it still sticks in my mind, and how life has turned out for me, but I’ll save that for another time.

January 5th is my first “proper” day back at work:  I’m not thrilled.  I’d rather be blogging and working on a couple of ideas I have, and which I hope will open up another income stream.  So, in the spirit of Linda G Hill’s post for today, I’ve also decided to jot down a list of things to do or achieve during this year:

The list

  1. Continue with at least one post on Fiona’s Favourites a week and, possibly, a bit more often if I have time and inclination.  This could include participating in more challenges or prompts:  like this one.
  2. Spend more time in (and on) the garden, sipping good wine.
  3. Take more, better photographs, not necessarily sipping good wine, although that might come later.RivSonEndMtMay2015
  4. Spend less time in the office (even though I do have a great view from my desk), sipping good wine.ViewOfficeDoorNov2015
  5. Sell my property in Johannesburg and then celebrating with a local MCC (aka good wine).LordsMCCBucketDec2015
  6. Turn two ideas into reality and, hopefully, income, sipping good wine.McGJan2015

The last is deliberately cryptic – I don’t want to jinx things!  I’ll keep you posted….

© Fiona’s Favourites 2016