The big (beer) bang

I must have been seven or eight.  We had been away for the weekend.  I don’t recall the reason.  I suspect it was the annual trip to the agricultural show at Gonubie outside East London (South Africa).  For a number of years after we moved to Grahamstown, this was a regular thing.  Dad judged the horticultural ranges:  flower arrangements and produce.  I loved it.  From the beautiful flowers, the exquisitely decorated cakes to the gymkhana which was preceded by a convoy of cars.  Each bonnet draped by a beautiful woman.  I thought, anyway.  One outfit I remember:  granny boots and a purple hat…

I loved the stay on the farm:  gooseberry jam;  butter making.  Milk from the cow’s udder, into my mouth;  into the whining separator and the cream and milk out of two very long spouts into milk churns which went, variously to the house and to customers.


The dairy parlour was not mechanised:  the milkmen sat on their three-legged stools, cheeks against the cows’ flanks, milking.  I still remember the sound of the milk squirting against the side of the empty metal bucket and how the sound changed from a sharp, metallic zing to a soft pfft as the bucket filled with foamy milk.  I remember the sounds and smells as though it was yesterday.  Not nearly fifty years ago.

We always came home with at least one hen’s egg.  Well, only one that mattered to me:  the “prize egg”.  At the end of the show, the produce was sold to the highest bidder, and as all good dad’s do, mine made sure mine was highest.  Mum would fry it for my breakfast:  it was generally a double yolker and something I was always impatient to discover.

I still get a thrill when a clutch of eggs includes double yolks…It’s no secret that I have a thing about eggs.

I’ve digressed.  As usual.

The big bang

Our live-in housekeeper looked after the house and dog in the family’s absence.  When we got home, late on Sunday afternoon, on the large, round coffee table, and on the large, round ashtray, lay a note:

Dear Madam and Master

There were big bangs in the brewery.


There was consternation.

Oh hell.

Or words to that effect.

The bangs, actually explosions, probably in the dead of night, must have been many.  The Dad’s first ever batch of home brew had been bottled, capped and left to – brew.  The timing of the weekend away (or the brewing schedule) also managed temptation to check on the young beer ahead of time.  Not that checking would have helped.  Fermentation is an exciting and tricky thing.  Making beer, like “proper” sparkling wine, is a two-step process and similar to the methode champenoise, the final fermentation is in the bottle.  Get that miniscule quantity of sugar, essential to get that second fermentation going, wrong, and things get loud and messy.  To say the least.

Having been shut up for the best part of three days, the smell of stale beer was evident long before anyone saw the physical evidence: shards of brown glass (g)littered the backroom (aka the brewery) which was awash with beer.  Embedded in the ceiling were umpteen crown corks.  Over the years, some fell out.  Others remained – I’m told – for the next twenty-odd years, and long after we moved from that house.

Taking a hit

In the 1960s and into the 1980s and when I was a young adult, it was not unusual to have a drink at lunch time.  I remember business lunches with beer and wine flowing freely.  My dad’s job in the 1970s entailed much outside work and he used to come home for lunch.  Easy considering our back gate opened on to his “office.”

Dad’s office – or part of it. Also the pond that dented his dignity. He stepped into it once. No beer was involved.

He’d come home, as he’d say, spitting sawdust, gasping for a beer which would be downed in very short order.  As would another three or four at the end of the day.

Cold beer didn’t just beat the heat, it hit the pocket.  Abstinence wasn’t on the cards;  plan B was to brew his own.  So began a process of finding out more.  I’m not sure how long the process took – it must have been a few months given that it was the early 1970s:  we lived off the beaten track and the Internet was still in someone’s imagination.  Somehow, they tracked down a supplier, equipment and ingredients.  In Johannesburg. Replacement equipment as well as ingredients were ordered and delivered – by snail mail.

Not thwarted

My father was a stubborn, determined Scot.  He often told me:

If you don’t succeed the first time, try, try and try again.  Thus, began more than two decades – at least – of brewing.

So, explosions in the brewery notwithstanding, he drank his way through tested successive batches, so that he and my mother perfected their recipe.

The “perfected” recipe for Standard Beer in my mother’s recipe book*

Each batch, as I recall, made seventy two 340 ml dumpies.  I know because it was often my job to count, set out and sterilise the bottles ahead of the final phase.

Dad collected these and friends did, too. Once they were discontinued, they were very, very precious. Source

It took about 20 days from start to tankard.  Longer for a better result and less sediment in the bottle.  I learned, at the tender age of about ten, how to pour a crystal clear beer.

The economics

I remember the sums – on the back of cigarette boxes.  The upshot, when all was said and done, the early batches worked out at around 1½ cents a dumpy.  Less than half the price of commercial beer.  So…

The weekend job

Beer occupied at least two Saturday mornings a month.  Step one happened roughly once a month – in the kitchen.  This was Mum’s domain so she took responsibility for most of this step.  It involved boiling malt (which arrived in buckets), hops, sugar and water.  For far too long – the child Fiona hated it and often wished not to be at home.  Once the “baby beer” left the stove and the kitchen, Dad took over, monitoring and managing each of the steps:  barrel (if you can call plastic, a barrel) fermentation, adding the yeast and finings and, ultimately, the bottling.  That took a full Saturday morning of sterilising, sugaring and hand siphoning until finally, each bottle was filled and capped.  The machine looked like a one-armed bandit.

Bottle capper like Dad’s. His was green. Source

Then the little brown bottles were lined up on shelves until either the beer was ready or the last batch ran out.  Which ever happened first.

Then the brewing stopped

My dad loved beer, but once a heart condition and elevated blood sugar was diagnosed, the family doctor declared that beer didn’t like him.  If he had to, he should graduate to whisky.  What good Scot wouldn’t?  He did, however, continue to enjoy the odd beer until he literally could not.  The Husband and one of Dad’s mates would sneak a beer (or two) into his room at the frail care centre.  When he died, 20 years ago this month, we retrieved a goodly stash which was imbibed in his honour.

We do miss the old boy.

*Atholl Broase is a traditional Scottish drink that Mum made (as she did, haggis) for Burns’ Night each year.  Another story for another time.

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

Photo: Selma

Post Script

I am doing my best to post every day for November as part of @traciyork’s twice yearly #HiveBloPoMo challenge. This is my third attempt. All my posts are to the the Hive blockchain, but not all from WordPress.  Details about the challenge (on the blockchain) are here and on WordPress, here.

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Bored Games

There is not one board game in our house.  When I met The Husband, there was an ancient game of Trivial Pursuit which arrived as part of the final merger.  Somewhere, though, over the last nearly 20 years, it’s gone.  I think it got thrown out because it was so old…


I loathe bored board games.  As for games evenings, well, I’d rather sit around around a table, break bread and enjoy conversation.  I remember a time when when a group of us would gather at mutual friends’ homes to watch the rugby (local and international matches).  When the practise began, the match was followed by a meal – usually a braai or if it was a late-ish match, a winter warmer like a curry or oxtail would be consumed during the match. Of course, the post-match conversation included detailed and scientific analysis which could run the gamut of emotions from jubilation to anger and desolation.  It all depended on whose side had won or lost or the referee’s folly.  Generally, though, the conversation would move on to other things.

Then, something changed.  I’m not sure what, and instead of conversation it was either Trivial Pursuit or 30 Seconds.  Both games are fun with the latter being my favourite of the two, but having spent well nigh on two hours glued to a television, why?

I have a love-hate relationship with Trivial Pursuit and quizzes, generally:  although I can be, and often am, a mine of useless information, I don’t do well under pressure.  In a quizz, when I know the answer, I’m so happy about it that I develop a temporary Tourette’s-like condition and just shout it out.  Often I know I know an answer, but it doesn’t appear in my brain, let alone get to my mouth.  Until the following day.  Fat lot of good!

30 Seconds, on the other hand is a bit like charades with cards and words.  Need I say more?

Oh, and did you know that this game was invented by a South African? Source

Games from my childhood

Cold winter Sunday afternoons were times for board games.  In front of the fire after the parents had had their afternoon snooze.  The entire house, including the dog would take to their beds.  Except me.  Mother gave up on forcing me to have an afernoon zizz.  I just couldn’t and still don’t.  I’d prefer to curl up under an eiderdown, or in the sun, with a book.

Just another reason for a love-hate relationship with board games:  playing them was not an option.  That said, I will acknowledge that there were times when I allowed myself to have fun.

So, what were the games?

Well, I recall for Christmas one year, getting a compendium of games which included everything from snakes and ladders and ludo to tiddlywinks and bingo.  Although I played snakes and ladders, to this day, I don’t see the point.  Perhaps I’m a little dim.   Ludo, well, let’s just say that it didn’t seem quite so pointless.


With tiddlywinks, skill and dexterity are a prerequisite, as they are with Pick-up Sticks which I did enjoy.  Someone gave me a set, I can’t remember whom, and I loved them.  Technically, neither are board games, right?


There were three other games that featured at different times in my childhood and all of which were much enjoyed and only ever played with my Dad.  It’s a long time since I played any of them:

Collage created on BeFunky with stockpics


It’s the board games I’m supposed to be talking about. There were two others that we played as a family.  One, I mentioned in passing here, was a present from Granny – Peter Rabbit’s Race Game.


Mine looked exactly like this and when we played, I was always Jemima Puddleduck.

Vintage South African Monopoly Source

The other, and more frequently-played game was Monopoly.  We had the South African version and when I ventured, for the first time to one or other of South Africa’s major cities, I loved discovering the premium properties in real life:  Eloff Street where I’d shop and catch buses when I worked in the centre of Johannesburg.  Roeland Street down which I’d drive if I had occasion to go to the centre of Cape Town to, among other places, the parliamentary precinct.

If memory serves, “my” piece was always the iron.  My mother’s which I only remembered when I looked at the picture, was the battleship.

I have no idea what happened to those sets which, the research for this post suggests, would now sell for a pretty penny.  I wondered why until I realised that those sets would have been more than 40 years old…

An unscientific theory

I am not a gamer.  The closest I get to any gaming is one or other iteration of solitaire.  I will play it on the PC;  give me a pack of cards and I’ll play one or other version of patience.  I think of it as “brewing” time for the project(s) on which I’m working.

I have often been struck by the time that the male of the species will spend either on playing a game, or creating (a) game(s) and striving for perfection.  Frankly, I have too much to do – in the kitchen, around the house and just getting on with life.  It was one of my pet peeves that my ex-husband could would live in a pig sty and eat swill and spend all his spare time on a game.  I just didn’t get it.

So, my theory is that women actually have a whole lot less free time than men.  Whether we like it or not, managing the home and caring for children is still primarily women’s work – over and above what we might do to earn a living.  Time on their hands, and what do men who don’t have a hobby, play sport and who no longer hunt for food, or go to war, do?

Create and play games.

Perhaps this scientific notion, in addition patriarchy, could also explain why most of the arts are still dominated by men?

My favourite three board games, if I were to choose?

  1. 30 Seconds must top the list.  It can be serious educational and fun.  It can be played in teams which makes it elastic, and more fun.  It can also be played by people of all ages and “skill” level.
  2. Draughts – I’d love to play this again.  I recall watching folk play this on the streets of Johannesburg:  the games were as fast as the lightning of a Highveld thunderstorm.  I loved playing this game with my Dad.
  3. Finally, and it’s just for sentimental reasons:  Peter Rabbit’s Race Game

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, let me explain what prompted this post, first published nearly a year ago:

An evil, really nice bunch of people in our PowerHouseCreatives group on Steemit run a themed contest once a month.  It’s always about one’s Top 3 of something or other.  I keep on saying I don’t do competitions because I don’t do competitive.  I really don’t.  But then, I keep on participating.Ahem…

So far, all the topics have piqued my interest in one way or another, including last month’s to which I had absolutely no connection, but which got me thinking.  You can read that entry here.

This month’s theme:

Board Games
Open up the cabinet and blow off the dust, we are breaking out the board games for the topic this month! Get ready to duke it out for your favorite game piece (we all had that lucky one, right?) and clear off the table for a night of fun. Perhaps it was a family tradition to come together at the end of the day, maybe a monthly date with friends, or getting the big guns out whilst the stereo system was playing dodgy Christmas songs! However it happened, we want to know, so share your top 3 favorite board games that you couldn’t resist bringing to the table!

Find the full post here
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

online English tutoring services

every day conversation and formal presentations
writing – emails and reports, academic and white papers
formal grammar, spelling and punctuation
more information here

And then there’s more:

  • If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
    • re-vamping old recipes.  As I do this, I plan to add them in a file format that you can download and print.  If you download recipes, buy me a ko-fi?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts because of this.
  • If you’re interested in a soft entry into the world of crypto currency and monetising WordPress blog, use the fantastic Steempress plugin to post directly to the Hive blockchain.  Click on the image below to sign up
  • I’m still blogging on Steem with the occasional post on Medium.