Heritage food – my take


This post, in its original iteration appeared in 2018. On another platform. I have, for a number of reasons, been trying to systematically restore “missing” bits. It’s a mixed blessing: some I choose not to restore. Others, like this, make me realise how much our lives have changed in the last year and now, more.

This was the story of one of our Sunday Suppers. We hosted them for three years. We’ve not hosted one since January 2020. We’re still asked if we “do” them.

I do miss them, but honestly, until we understand Covid better, it’s kind of scary allowing strangers into one’s home and private space. I hate admitting that I (we) have developed a serious dose of stranger danger. I do, paradoxically, admit that we are a little lax in our village bubble. That said, I don’t miss the obligatory hugging and kissing that characterised so many social encounters – especially with acquaintances and people one has only just met and with whom one has, at best, a tenuous emotional connection.

I digress, of course…

Heritage, my adopted country and food

In South Africa, in September, we celebrate our combined heritage. Like so many countries, we are a bit of a melting pot but in South Africa, heritage is also the site of much contestation. However, I won’t go into that, except to say that Heritage Day precipitates two things. One, a public holiday and the other, South Africa’s shared love of gathering around a fire on which a meal is cooked. Yes, the barbecue. In South Africa, though, it’s the braaivleis or shisa nyama that is virtually universally traditional. Needless to say, when this particular commemoration spawned a public holiday on a Monday, the Sunday Supper menu reflected that. So it was, in 2018, when I had already been thinking about the menu, but had not come up with anything, I get this direct message on Instagram:

“Are you by any chance doing lunch/dinner on Sunday 23 September. Can you recommend a place to overnight in McGregor! Thought we would come and test your kitchen and catch up??”

Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Ms Jolly Hockey Sticks, Dr Groundwater and I had all been – yes, you guessed it – at university together. All of us in the Geography department and she and I in the same residence. Other than bumping into her at a local market more than 20 years ago, and hearing Dr Groundwater elucidate about the drought and his speciality on a local radio station, I had seen neither of them since those days; other than her following my Instagram account, we are not in touch.

In addition to their advance booking for Sunday Supper, dear friends, Mr & Mrs Gummi, from Cape Town, were to booked into our Little Room and yes, especially so that they could be here for Sunday Supper.

Boot on the other foot

Now, there is something you should know about Mr Gummi. Not only are he and The Husband dedicated carnivores and bosom buddies who hail from the same part of the world, but Mr Gummi is a former restauranteur and chef. We met him – and them – in his restaurant. It’s one thing having a casual braai or a dinner around the table in one’s home, and quite another when, so to speak, the boot is on the other foot: there is just a little pressure.

South Africa and Scotland

Back to the menu. Of course, it needed a heritage theme. In my wisdom, I decided it should reflect both South Africa and Scotland. I am a naturalised South African; the Scottish connection is both about The Husband’s and my heritage and the village whose Scottish heritage is reflected in its name, McGregor. With my kitchen constraints, it was neither practical to do a “common or garden” braai nor given that Sunday Suppers had developed a set format of starter, main and sweet. Two things that had been part our first heritage menu in 2017, featured: the starter of a paté made with local, smoked fish, and the sweet.

The final menu

The starter was two pâtés served with crostini. Followed by a braaied Springbok fillet and Fiona’s Scottish Milktart. None of the diners was vegetarian. I cannot remember what that option was…

The two patés: I cannot give you specific recipes for either, except to explain what they consist of, and how I make them.

Two pâtés

Angel fish pâté

This is a pâté usually made with a smoked fish (snoek) which is a rather coarsely textured, very bony, oily fish. I prefer to make it with angel fish – the flavour is more delicate than the heavy, salted smoked flavour of the snoek. Either way, both fish are readily available if one has access to fresh fish or the sea.

I make the pâté with fish that’s is left over from a main meal – usually done on the braai – cooked over hot coals, on the skin, not turned. It’s basted with a mixture of olive oil, butter, parsley, garlic and lemon juice. The Husband reckons he only knows how long to braai the fish for because I make just the right quantity of the libation. I’m not so sure, but I’ll take it!

The cold fish is separated from the skin and flaked into a bowl into whichI add a spritz of dry white wine, followed by a dollop of cottage cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and finally, in this instance, wild garlic leaves and either chives or green onion tops.

Combine these ingredients until the correct consistency is achieved – without mashing or puréeing – adjusting the quantities and the seasoning as you go along. If you are in South Africa and using wild garlic (Tulbaghia), be judicious with the quantities. It is very (the actual word begins with an “f”) strong and it develops over time, especially when combined with dairy.

Stash the pâté the fridge until you are ready to use it – either in a single receptacle or in individual dishes – depending on what you’re planning to use it for.

Homemade maaskaas (cottage cheese) pâté with wild herbs

Making cottage cheese is easier than you think. In South Africa, you can buy cultured soured milk. I have, when I could get really, proper (how’s that for English) full cream milk, soured it and made cottage cheese from that. Full fat milk is getting harder and harder to come by, so at the suggestion of a friend, I cheated and bought the maas. I haven’t looked back and I make it regularly, treat it exactly the same way:

Put a colander into a large bowl to catch the whey and then line the colander with muslin. Dump in the maas and tie up the muslin. The whey will drain out and you will need to pour that away if it fills quickly (on to your pot plants or into the compost because it’s actually full of goodness). It will need to hang for at least 24 hours, but better for 48 and you will have cottage cheese of the most fabulous creamy consistency to which you can add the flavourings you want.

For this supper, I added wild garlic and suurings or wild sorrel to the cottage cheese. I grew up eating these sour little leaves and flowers – in the Eastern Cape they are mauve and where I live, in the Western Cape they are yellow and flower in abundance in spring – especially if it’s been an especially wet winter.

A bit like the angel fish pâté, adding the seasoning and flavourings is a matter of personal taste, remembering the caveat about the wild garlic leaves, and which applies just as much to conventional garlic. When you’re happy, either serve immediately – the flavour is better at room temperature – or store until you’re ready to use.

Springbok loin on the braai

The second course was Springbok loin rubbed with a mixture of my homemade spicy plum jam, Worcestershire sauce and olive oil to which I added a teaspoon of crushed coriander seed, a crushed clove of garlic and about a dessertspoon of fresh, grated ginger. Having marinated for about four or so hours, the loins were braaied (grilled) over hot coals until they were medium rare, and then removed and allowed to rest.

Some will say that this is too rare but remember two things: venison is not just well matured but has no fat marbling which makes it dry and easy to overcook. Secondly, as I had to keep it warm and avoid overcooking while waiting for diners to be ready for their main courses, I always elect to take the meat off when it was under-done and allow it to rest.

In terms of quantities: Springbok is a small animal and one loin serves about two people.

A diner’s plate of springbok fillet medallions, jus and vegetables with herb butter.

Fiona’s Scottish Milk Tart

The dessert, when I served it for the first time last year, was an instant hit and has become a regular feature of Sunday Supper menus.

It consists of the filling of a traditional South African melktert (milk tart) served with a side of Scottish shortbread in either a lovely little glass or, more prettily in my mother’s Royal Albert coffee cups.

By all accounts, it was a menu and a meal that was a success!

* direct translation is “grilled meat” and usually shortened to braai pronounced “bry” – like “fry”

** shisa, according to an online dictionary, means to heat or to burn

*** nyama in many of the Nguni languages, including isiZulu and the one I am most familiar with, isiXhosa, is meat

In closing – it could take a while…


That I have been able to recapture much of this blogpost, albeit updated and edited, is thanks in no small measure to blockchain technology. What is on a blockchain can’t be deleted – even if your website disappears. The folk from @exxp, @fredrikaa and Martin Lees (@howo), the programmer behind the WordPress plugin have set up a front end that enables one to download – in text – everything one has posted from WP to the blockchain. So, although the image links were lost in the original post, the text was not. Fortunately, the file names were saved and I could find and reload the images.

Not just for Gen Z and Milennials

People of my vintage tend to glaze over when I mention that I blog to a blockchain. I’m not going to pretend that I understand much if any of the details. The social blockchain community of which I am part, includes folk of all generations.  From all over the world.

Recently, fellow S’Affrican, contemporary and blogpal @lizelle started an online community that is home for the more hesitant less geekish and technically inclined. I don’t like being pigeonholed or boxed, so the eclectic focus of this community and the multi-generational (40 – 100 year) span of Hive Silver Bloggers is a space in which my equally eclectic interests fit. It’s recently been noticed by some of the blockchain big cheeses whales which means @lizelle is doing something right. I know that. She and the community deserve support.

Sunday Suppers

We do miss them. Not necessarily the not having a weekend and the sometimes bone-aching exhaustion after a busy (and successful) Sunday. We have met some interesting and fascinating people. We (I, perhaps more than The Husband) had fun. I miss the cooking and the sense of occasion that I had the privilege of creating for our guests. We will, possibly “do” them again. If. There is a need, we feel safe, and/or, as we have always said, people (there must be between four and ten) ask us to “do” a Supper @ The Sandbag House experience.

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

Photo: Selma

Post Script

  • 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 coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.
  • I blog to the Hive blockchain using a number of decentralised appplications. From WordPress, I use the Exxp WordPress plugin. If this rocks your socks, click on the image below to sign up –

Image: @traciyork

  • Join Hive using this link and then join us in the Silver Bloggers’ community by clicking on the logo below:

    Original artwork: @artywink
  • I also share my occasional instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr. On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.

Beleaguered and Confused

I am not sure where to begin. Today is the one-hundred-and-twenty-somethingth day since South Africa went into a lockdown. Of these, some five weeks were a hard lockdown to retard the community transmission of the novel corona virus that causes COVID-19 disease. More importantly, it was to buy time to prepare the country’s health facilities for the onslaught that was inevitable.

It’s about six weeks since I last had something to say about “the situation”. In South Africa.  The world.  Not because it doesn’t occupy a fair bit of my waking (and sleeping) mind, but because it’s becoming less of a “thing” and more of a thing.  It’s reached our village and we’ve moved between zero and three cases at any one time.  As far as I know, all cases have recovered.  That said, the woman who helps me in the house has lost four members of her extended family.  One of my best friends, who lives in Johannesburg, has had symptoms but these weren’t deemed sufficiently severe for a third test.  Notwithstanding the killer headache.  She went into self isolation and happily she is fine.  As I write, a contemporary from school is in a living hell.  Her husband has been in an induced coma for the last two weeks.  He still is.  Today Sunday’s update was that there was improvement to his heart and liver but that his lungs were still “70% saturated with the covid infection”.

A look at the numbers

Six weeks ago, there were thirty six thousand confirmed cases in South Africa.  Now there are more than four hundred and twenty thousand.  Nearly 40% have required treatment and 0.1% have / are critical and needed ICU treatment.  That’s a total of five hundred and thirty nine people.  Those are not overnight stays.  They are prolonged stays.  My friend’s husband still has weeks ahead of him.  First in ICU and then…

Covid-19 figures as at 25 July 2020: The world and South Africa

We haven’t reached the peak of the pandemic in this country or, it would seem, in the world.  The curves are still rising.

South Africa’s confirmed cases and recorded deaths – March to July 2020. Source.

Yes, there are regions and countries that seem to have things under control, but the fears of second waves remain.  The EU is planning for that eventuality. Notwithstanding any advances in the development of a vaccine and/or treatments.

Doubling down up – it’s a complicated, fickle disease

Infectious diseases spread rapidly.  That’s stating the obvious, but it bears repeating.  I keep on hearing people questioning how the numbers can double so quickly.  Well, just think about it:  Dad gets home from work.  Kisses mom hello.  Dad kisses the two kids good night.  The kids cuddle granny the next day.  Dad (one person) came home with the virus.  He has potentially given it to another four people.    If all four are infected with enough of the virus to become infected and infectious, they will spread it.  Granny will cuddle the other grandchildren.  Mom will go to work and potentially infect her co-workers, and so how many people infected – from just Dad?  All this complicated by the reality that the children may never display symptoms or get ill. Or be diagnosed. But will be infectious.

None of this is new.  It’s what all the authorities are saying and it’s also why the World Health Organisation did an about turn on wearing cloth face masks.  The thing is:  even with, in South Africa, a more than 60% recovery rate:  if people get sick, they get very, very sick.  For a long time.  In hospital.  It’s a horrible disease and it takes a long time to recover.


When I marked twenty one days of lockdown, I lamented the heavy handed conduct of the authorities.  I celebrated being able to cook with wine.  I noted that contrariness regarding tobacco sales which had simply descended into the underworld and that all the smokers I know are still smoking.  At extortionate prices.

Yes, that’s a teaspoon and a minute plastic bag of tobacco.

This tiny baggie of tobacco in which our gardener indulged, and from which he’d already had one entjie (little end), cost him R30 (just over $2).  He would get another entjie from that last bit.  He is a casual worker who eventually found his birth certificate that enabled him to register for food parcels for his family – only two weeks ago.  In the meantime, when he had money, tobacco took precedence.

Worn down

On day 54 of the lockdown, I said I was tired. On day 125, I’m not just tired, I’m worn down and confused.   I know I’m not alone.  We went from a lifting of some restrictions and feeling not quite so hemmed in because there was no curfew and we could excercise and take the odd day trip.  Then, suddenly, just like that, on a Sunday evening about two weeks ago, boom!  the President announced the reinstatement of a curfew, toasting it with a ban on alcohol sales.  I can no longer cook with wine.

Needless to say there is an ongoing hue and cry:  when the ban was lifted on 1 July, there was a more than 60% increase in alcohol related trauma.  This stretched, certainly in my home province, the already strained high care facilities.  So, I do get it.

It’s also common knowledge that there is an “alcohol problem” in South Africa.  As with smoking, though, it’s about a third of the population that drinks, and amonn them, very heavy drinkers. As with smoking (she repeats herself), it’s the minority who ruin it for those who drink moderately enjoy an aperitif and/or a glass of wine over dinner.

It’s not only booze

After the hard lockdown, restaurants remained unable to sell and serve alcohol.  Initially they could offer takeways and then were permitted to host diners to enjoy a meal. At COVID-19 standard social distances.  Suddenly, an 9pm curfew means in the cities, that kitchens probably have to close at 7pm and staff leave for home by 8pm.

“Dinner service?” I hear you ask.  Well, exactly.

Oh, and leisure accommodation may not accept guests.  Business travellers, yes.  You can take a trip into the country, in your home province, but you can’t stay over.  Oh, and I can go to church, and I can sit in a café and have a coffee, with complete strangers, but I can’t visit my friends who are family.  Let alone family.

Tail wagging the dog – in the taxi and at school

Oh, and I can sit in a minibus taxi – also with complete strangers – full to capacity – as long as the windows are open.  Because the industry threatened to shut down the country if they couldn’t operate at 100%.

Schools are out.  Again. Because the teachers’ unions are afraid for the children that the children might get ill, infect the teachers and/or take the infection home to granny and grandpa.

Like teachers don’t bring the virus to school because they don’t ride in taxis or go to the shops to buy food to feed their families?

As a former educator and with a lifelong interest in education, I know this is doing almost as much damage to this generation of scholars as is the virus.  South Africa can ill afford yet another lost generation.

Where is she going with this?

Well, you may well ask and getting back to the booze:  the point is about more than the alcohol.  It’s about the value chains. Yes, plural.

Let’s look briefly at one that’s rather close to home:  the wine industry.  Our village is in the heart of the winelands, so let’s start in the vineyard, where people, led by viticulturists, work to tend the vines and pick the grapes to take to the cellar.  The grapes are pressed and the juice nurtured to turn into fine wine – using equipment and vats and barrels – by highly skilled people. Then it must be bottled and labelled.  The equipment in the vineyards and cellars must be procured and maintained.  Bottles and lables must be sourced from producers.

This, all before the wine even hits a retail counter in a cellar, bottle store or bistro.  The knock-on effects on livelihoods are no less devastating than COVID-19.  And as exponential.  This is just one element of the tourism and hospitality sector.  There is a myriad of others.

Losing more than money

The South African government is also losing money and face.  In an op ed piece, the Premier of the Western Cape anticipates the loss of two hundred and forty thousand jobs.  Just in our province.  Two people in my close circle have businesses that have either not launched, and/or not functioned because of, the lockdown and specifically the alcohol ban.  No income for going on five months but still having to feed, clothe and meet the ongoing obligations of maintaining premises?

In the face of rampant government corruption associated with the pandemic and over the past more than ten years.

Then, when the hospitality sector holds a peaceful demonstration, the conduct of the police is reminiscent of the apartheid era, I am just simply at a loss for words.

Illogical paradoxes

I still don’t know where I’m going with this, and I’m not sure anyone really understands what lies behind the mixed messages emanating from the powers that be.  As a Piscean, I’m known for chasing my tail and flapping about before making a decision.  I like to think, though, that when I’ve made a decision its mostly on logical and solid ground.  I then stick to my guns.  What’s going on around me continues, it seems to me, to be a slippery slope and a recipe peppered with very little common sense.

And now?

The legislation governing the state of disaster under which South Africa currently exists, provides for the government to continue extending the declaration every month for as long as necessary.  It has been extended to mid-August.  Looking dipassionately at the numbers and listening to the daily announcements of confirmed cases of between ten- and thirteen thousand, even I can see that the numbers have not peaked in South Africa.   Those who know much more than I, say so, too.  It begs the question:  how much longer will we be living in a constant state of confusion and incoherence?

What I’m doing to cope

I miss seeing the people I care about.  I miss going to my regular places. I’m not sure I’m coping.  I am doing.  Keeping my head down and diligently doing the bit of work I’ve (happily) found, and looking for more.  I am grateful that the McGregor Saturday market has begun again.  It means that after three months, suddenly, my week has shape again:  kitchen day is back.  There is one day in the week when I must get out of bed and wear something other than sweat pants because there is somewhere to go, and people to see.

With a new addition to my market repertoire:  sourdough rolls.

More of “mother”, sourdough bread and rolls, anon.

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

Photo: Selma


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing, research and online tutoring services

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 coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • 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 also share the occasional my instagram posts to the crypto blockchain using the new, and really nifty phone app, Dapplr.  On your phone, click the icon below, and give it a go.

  • I also share the occasional post on Medium.


le zoulou blanc – a man for all

Before I get going…

It’s week or so ago that shared what was, kinda the soundtrack of my life (on WordPress; on Hive). It was, in part a piece of fluff, but in others, not. In the final paragraph, I note –

There are songs missing from this list and which I’d love to have included, like Johnny Clegg’s Asimbonanga (We have not seen him [Mandela])….”

And then…

Around about a year after I first wrote that, Johnny Clegg died. The news of his death came as I was preparing dinner on an ordinary Tuesday in July. It seemed that suddenly the world, and South Africa in particular, were the poorer. Another voice in the soundtrack of my life silenced forever.

This is what I wrote exactly a year ago today. Mandela Day and the anniversary of that great man’s birthday. With hindsight, rather apt.

A necessary digression

I was seventeen the first time I heard a Juluka song. I was at boarding school, and as seniors, we were allowed to have our own transistor radios.

At the end of the preceding year, 1979, the first independent radio station in South Africa had been launched. Broadcasting from the beautiful and then pristine coastal village of Port St Johns in the “independent” Transkei, Capital Radio 604 was essentially a music station that broadcast music and news often not heard on mainstream state-owned radio stations.


The line-up, I clearly remember, included a mishmash of folk: Englishmen (pukka) an American and South Africans – black and white. Unheard of. As a young, unaware kid, the significance was totally lost on me. As was the fact that one of the most popular songs of 1980 was banned in South Africa: Pink Floyd’s Another brick in the wall. It was also on this radio station that Juluka’s song, Africa topped the charts. It was their first hit.

I listen to this song and am immediately transported into the cell-like room in which I stayed for at least one term. It had no windows and could literally just take a narrow single bed, the “tin shanty” as we called our bedside lockers and the laundry box that stood at the foot of the bed.

In my childish ignorance, I did not know that the African language melded with the English, was isiZulu. I had only been exposed to a little isiXhosa. Of course, I sang every single word, but my words in the isiZulu verses were all mondegreens. It’s only as an adult, searching for the lyrics that I learned what they meant:

As he grew, people told him, son, don’t you trust anyone, you don’t learn how to trust a stone,
This is not a gentle land, and it breaks those who never learn how to be alone.

Afrika kukhala abangcwele
eAfrika kukhala abangcwele wena (Africa be holy to you)

And so, he walked in the passion of his land, until at last he cried out,
Can anybody hear, hear me, hear the song in my heart?
There’s a song to be sung that can heal these broken men,
Let us sing and we’ll walk through the dark, hand in hand, hand in hand.

From the album, Universal Men, 1979

The soundtrack to many South Africans’ lives

They took on a new poignancy for me yesterday when I saw this Facebook post from Andrew Boraine:

While in solitary confinement in 1980, I would pace around my cell and sing to myself over and over a Johnny Clegg and Jaluka song [Africa], to strengthen my resolve in the face of my interrogators:….

RIP Johnny, I will miss you and your music. It saved me when I was a young man. It is part of the soundtrack of my life.

That Clegg, Jaluka and Savuka’s music was integral to the soundtrack of so many South Africans’ lives, was the overriding theme to all the tributes I heard yesterday: from the celebrities and musicians who worked with him, to ordinary people, whom he may or may not have actually met.

Clegg, in an interview, following his diagnosis and in advance of his Final Journey Tour, said two things that resonated for me. He didn’t go looking for politics, but rather that “politics found me”: because he had simply followed his passion and curiosity, spending time with the people with whom he felt most connected. The second was that he had toured every year since 1983.

Dancing to a political awakening

This made me realise that when I was at university, and the first time I saw him perform, they were on that first tour. The venues had to be places where he and Sipho Mchunu could perform together on the same stage: the liberal (white) universities and townships. I remember the Great Hall at Rhodes University, filling up with students, armed with their joints cigarettes, cheap wine and/or beer. The music, in modern parlance, was epic, and even thirty-seven years later, the image of the two of them doing the high kicks of Zulu dances, is as vivid as if it had been just last night (without the side-effects of alcohol and second-hand dope-smoking).

How far we have come: a friend of mine from those days, now living in London, was at both that concert and at the London show of the Final Journey Tour. He and I have not seen each other since we both lived in Johannesburg in the mid- to late 1980s, and this was our exchange on Facebook the night Clegg died:

Steve and I were on opposite sides of the student politics spectrum. We ran into each other where I worked in 1986, and had our first ever real adult conversation. We both lived in Yeoville and we both lived in Rockey Street, a few houses from each other. As he says: all those years ago (with no apologies to George Harrison, whose 1981 song is also part of the soundtrack of our university days, too).

The years, 1982 to 1986 were also the time of my real political awakening: I have alluded to it elsewhere, but it was driven home in 1986 when I spent some of my happiest ever times dancing the night away to Maskanda and Mbaqanga music in the depths of Soweto. I tell you: this white girl could dance. She was, in those circles, made an “honorary Sowetan”; an honour I still hold dear.

The following year (1987) saw the release of Asimbonanga (We have not seen him [Mandela])….”. Many young people don’t know the double entendre of “we have not seen him”: any likeness, image or photograph of Nelson Mandela was also banned. In about 1988, an early memoir of Winnie Mandela emerged, written by Fatima Meer. It contained photographs of Winnie; not one of Madiba. Asimbonanga, with its most haunting melody, celebrates and mourns people killed by the Apartheid regime. At the time Clegg wrote it, neither he, nor I dreamed that Mandela would be free, let alone be South Africa’s first democratically elected President. One can only but imagine how he felt, singing this song and discovering Mandela behind him. I watch it now, and have, many times. Still the tears come.

Clegg’s songs punctuate different parts of my life; it was not until I worked in the mining industry, and had actually gone down gold mines, that the words of African Sky Blue really hit:

I could reel off and find other songs that I love, especially from the first two albums whose songs take me back to the common room at boarding school and parties at university, but I shan’t. There is, however, one that must not be glossed over. Clegg wrote it after the death of a band member. That year, 1997, was a year of crossing for me, too. It was the first time I had to confront the sudden death of a colleague and friend. It also marked a crossing point in my first marriage.


It is the song that a group of Clegg’s friends recorded for him – as a surprise gift – and as a celebration of the man – just eight before his death in 2019.

When Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, was interviewed the day after his death, he pondered the significance of having spontaneously played this on his saxophone the morning of Clegg’s own crossing.

Johnny Clegg
(7 June 1953 – 16 July 2019)
Chevalier des Arts et Lettres (Knight of Arts and Letters)
Your voice may be silent, but your songs live on


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

Photo: Selma

Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing and online 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 coffee. Or better yet, a glass of wine….?
    • 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 also share the occasional post on Medium.

The Mercurial Freddie


I wrote this almost exactly a year ago, and it went the way of all my posts for that period.  That said, this week saw the announcement that the Royal Mail would be launching a series of stamps to mark the 50th anniversary of Queen.  It seemed fitting that this is the post I should “reconstitute” and tidy up as part of that ongoing process of revising and “logging” them here.

I am an unashamed fan.  Their music is intertwined in the soundtrack of my life, going back to 1976 when I began to be enamoured with pop.  Their music is fascinating on a range of levels, from the music iteslf, to the lyrics.  Bohemian Rhapsody is open to so much interpretation and in the days when lyrics were included with the record (yes, we had the record), one could learn the the correct ones off by heart.  I remember looking up “Bismillah”, “Scaramouche” and “Beelzebub”.  I hear that song, and others, and the words just come out of my mouth.  Involuntarily.

One of very few regrets

Freddie Mercury always seemed a larger than life character and that he was.  In October 1984, the year I turned 21, Queen came to South Africa to play at Sun City and I didn’t go.  I regret little in my life, but not having made more of an effort to take the trip, is one of them.  That said, perhaps it wasn’t a bad thing – Freddie had issues with his voice and a couple of concerts were cancelled; with my luck, that would have been “my” night.  It was the most controversial part of that world tour because the Equity ban precluded British artists from performing in South Africa.  Because of Apartheid.  However, Sun City was located in the then “independent” state of Bophutatswana and which was “Apartheid-free”.

When I heard about Bohemian Rhapsody, the Freddie Mercury biopic, I was nervous about seeing it.  Who could be Freddie?  Nobody, I thought.  Then the reviews emerged – mixed.  And then Rami Malek, contrary to critics’ expectations, won the Oscar.  My interest was piqued and after hearing from contemporaries that they loved it, I wanted to see it.  Living where we do, and not getting to the big city the cinema very often, I was delighted when our local thespian laid his hands on a newly released copy of the Blu Ray and showed it at his theatre.

With reservations and with great anticipation, I went to see the film.  It is not the best film ever made – by a long shot.  Malek is wooden and tries too hard to be Freddie.  The actors playing Roger Taylor (and I loved his solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking) and John Deacon were similarly wooden.  “Brian May” was probably the most comfortable in his character.  Despite all this –

I loved every minute.

I said so in a Facebook post which unleashed denigrating comments from two university contempories which, I think, reflects the extent to which Freddie Mercury was misunderstood.  This is the comment that most got me, and on which I have been reflecting ever since:

[the film]…made out that Freddy was a (sic) AIDS sufferer supporter…which is complete bullshit. If you read the auto biography Freddy was promiscuous almost beyond belief…he literally had a queue of young men outside his hotel room door who came in one-by-one to provide Freddy with an ‘all night service’. And then when he got Aids, (how surprising), he hid it as long as he possibly could and did nothing to remove its stigma or do anything for other sufferers. Freddy was a million miles away from being the saint they paint him as in the movie.

My response then:

It was honest without being as brutal as it could have been. Call me old and soft, but I appreciated that.

I went to see the film a second time and enjoyed it as much.  It also made me reflect even more on the extent to which Freddie has been villified in some quarters.  Largely unfairly, I believe:

Some context:

Growing up in South Africa meant that I grew up in a very conservative environment, in a country governed by Calvanistic Christian government:  Apartheid meant that races could not mix.  People of different races could not live next door to each other;  mixed marriages (sex across the “colour bar”) were (was) prohibited.  By law.  There was a peice of legislation:  The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act.  Similarly, sexual relations between people of the same sex was illegal.  Doors were broken down, people hauled out of beds and imprisoned.  Members of the armed forces suspected of being gay, were subjected to “corrective treatment”.  That is the society in which I grew up, as did the person who made that comment.  Homosexuality was also illegal in the UK when Freddie was a young adult; only in 1967 was it decriminalised for males over the age of 21.


This means that we, like Freddie and his contemporaries, grew up in a homophobic world before AIDS and HIV:  it reared its head as a public health issue (and with terror tactics) in what would have been our last year or two of university.  It was highly stigmatised:  it was a gay disease;  it was also a disease of promiscuity.  It was, and for some still is, the equivalent of Biblical leprosy.  Notwithstanding the fact that there is now enough reliable information in the public domain which gives a lie to all of that.


During 1989, and when it was gay men who were most concerned about becoming infected, I had the mixed blessing of having a gay friend who discovered that his new partner, with whom he had hoped to have a permanent relationship, was HIV positive.  The partner had not disclosed and they’d been having unprotected sex.  My friend  and I went to see the film Longtime Companion, a classic about a community of friends confronting the ravages of AIDS. My friend had broken up with his earstwhile partner but was waiting for the outcome of the first of several tests necessary to find out his status.  It was still in the window period and then there would be the wait for a further six months.  The results are not important.  What is important is that my friend is one of the least promiscuous people I have ever known.  He knew, and would talk about Fire Island and the gay lifestyle;  he had lived in, and returned to Florida.  I have forgotten none of his agony, anger nor relief.

That agony can only be second to the agony of someone grappling with coming out and which includes having to acknowledge to themselves and to a still hostile society, their sexual preference and its implications.  I have had the privilege of walking alongside two dear friends as they have taken this step.  It’s neither a choice, and nor does coming out make life easier.  It just makes life different and choices different.  Nor, in 2020, does it mean that the world is accepting and not homophobic.

Farrokh Bubara

Freddie Mercury, I believe, was very much a product, and a victim of, his time.  Although he died at 45, we should remember that this year, he’d have turned 74.  He was nearly 20 years my senior.  Effectively a different generation.  That bears thinking about, as does his early and young life.

You’re ugly and your mother dresses you funny

Although he was born in Zanzibar, his father was employed by the British Colonial Service (as, incidentally, was mine) which sent him there from his native India (the family were Parsis from the Gujarati region, and were Zoarastrians).  The young Freddie was sent back to India to an English “public school-like” boarding establishment.  What parent, today, relishes sending their children to boarding school?  Less so now that the conduct of certain school masters and initiation practices  are increasingly being publicly acknowledged as “established” phenomena.  A few years later, in 1964 and when Freddie was just 18, the Zanzibar revolution, led by Muslims, forced the family to flee.  Nowhere else to go, they ended up in London where he clearly didn’t fit in. To add insult to injury, it was assumed he was from Pakistan, a country run by Muslims, the very people that hounded the family from Zanzibar – with nothing. Source

This would have been tough for any adolescent, especially for someone sensitive, with enormous talent and unconventional looks; I can only imagine how he felt about himself.  I have an inkling:  I had my own journey having to have my teeth “fixed”.  My mother constantly told me that I couldn’t have the most fashionable hair-do of the moment because of “your ears and your teeth.  Then there were all the other “you’re-ugly-and-your-mother-dresses-you-funny” experiences of my childhood and adolescence in boarding school,

About his being gay, one of Freddie’s biographers says:

The world has changed so much. He was a arecording artist in the ’70s and ’80s, two decades when the level of homophobia is difficult for anyone born after 1980 to fully comprehend. In particular, Britain and the USA were scary places for gay people, and the onset of AIDS gave license to the religious fulminators and right-wing zealots.

Living up to his rock star status

Hiding his HIV status and developing a larger than life persona that sheltered the deeper, sensitive, private human being must have been Freddie’s survival strategy.  The debauchery, which was touched upon in the film was a combination of what was expected of a rock star, the machinations of another lost soul who had found his meal ticket (or so he thought), as well as Freddie’s own proclivities and insecurities.

Freddie was no saint, that much is clear.  Perhaps his feet of clay did not feature in the film as much as his detractors might have liked.

With hindsight, two songs strike me as particularly poignant.  Was this, for most of his life, Freddie’s quest?

This one, hated by an old boyfriend of mine, is as relevant today as it was in 1984.

Lastly, this happens to be one of my absolute favourite Queen songs, not often played, which is my only reason for including it.

Post Script:

June is Pride month…
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa

Photo: Selma


Post Script

In yet another aspect of my life, I offer

English writing and online 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 also share the occasional post on Medium.

Balancing Act or Slippery Slope?

I’ve had a hiatus from blogging.  Some of it because I’ve moved to a new host – a story for another time.  Most of it, though, because I’ve been through a bit of a low patch.  I can’t say that I’m out of the funk. I’m not.  Things still look and feel bleak.  I am, however, getting angry.  I am confused.

When I last wrote about the Covid-19 pandemic, I shared facts and little opinion.  I said I’d save my thoughts for another time. That time has come.  Be warned:  it’s a long read.

Before I do, a factual update:

The stats

Covid-19 figures as at 30 April 2020: The world and South Africa

The centre of the South African epidemic is now Cape Town.  In the 38 days since the first case was reported, an average of 148 new cases has been reported per day.  However, in the last three days, the number of confirmed new cases has averaged more than 300.

The South African curve is still rising.  Potentially exponentially.  Unlike originally hoped.  The peak is still expected in August or September.  So the numbers will go up, as will the need for hospital beds.

In our minicipal district, Langeberg, in the 14 days since I last wrote about Covid-19, we’ve gone from 1 active case to 4.

Effective today, 1 May 2020, South Africa moves out of a total lockdown and into stage 4.  A summary of what we may and may not do, is here.

What the President said

Last Thursday, and in anticipation of the end of the extended lockdown, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation.  For the majority of people in my circle, there were three things that were top of mind: excercise, booze and smokes.  Not necessarily in that order.

The president was unequivocal.

The people 

  • will be able to buy smokes.  Again.
  • won’t be able to buy beer.
  • will be able to exercise
    but umm…well…my people, will get back to you on that.

Let’s talk about alcohol

The logic behind the ban on the sale of alcohol can be deduced and, to a degree, understood.  Yes, overindulgence does impair one’s judgement and one thing can lead to another.  Yes, South Africa does have a problem with alcohol abuse and binge drinking.  It’s common knowledge that alcohol contributes to domestic and gender based violence as well as motor vehicle accidents.  South Africa has more than her fair share of these.

Following the lockdown, there was a more than 60% reduction in trauma cases – stabbings, gunshot wounds and motor vehicle accidents.  Reports attribute this to the ban on the sale of alcohol. Nobody mentions that traffic levels over the Easter weekend were also much reduced because people had to stay at home.  The corollary, and in the same report: there was no “major shift” in the number of reported incidents of domestic violence.

The devil and the details

On Wednesday, on the eve of the eve of the lifting of the ultimate lockdown,  the relevant ministers briefed the nation.  We all waited with baited breath.  Smokers, enjoying the last of the eked out stash of ciggies, waiting to learn what “exercising” would mean.

School, universities and work

Certain people are back to work; certain mines, factories and enterprises are operating again;  restaurants may deliver food between certain hours.  Schools may open on 1 June.  The colleges and universities will not return to campus-based classes this year.  Except for final year clinical medical students.  They’re needed on the “front line”.

The rest of us, especially the “elderly” must stay at home.

An exercise gap

Individuals may walk, jog or cycle between 6 and 9 am.  We’re going into winter and South Africa has one time zone.  At 6am, it’s pitch dark on this (west) side of the country.  In the towns and cities, this is exactly the time when those who may, are going to work.

Why just this two-hour window, is a question that is vexing everyone.

  • It’s easier to police. Especially in the townships and informal settlements.
  • Because we won’t be tempted to have a catch up on the corner like we would between 4 and 6 pm.

It was our local police captain’s partner who posited these reasons on the community Facebook page.  Some villagers were placated.  Others incensed.  Having ventured out during the alotted time this morning, here was much acatching-up-on-the-corner….  The social media is awash with misty morning photographs of joggers on the Seapoint Promenade in Cape Town practising social distancing.

I am concerned about –

  • solitary women cycling, walking or running in the dark
  • homes, desserted by exercise fanatics people exercising their right to exercise, that are vulnerable to the criminal element that thrives on routine

Oh, and for pet owners:  their dogs can walk them.  They can’t walk their dogs.

De ja vu

It gets better.  I said that the rest of us, especially the elderly, must stay at home. We may only leave home for essentials, excercise and for medical appointments.  If stopped by the police (or army), we may be asked to prove why we’ve ventured out.

Workers are on a tight leash:  they may only leave home at 5am and must be back at home not later than 8pm.  Or else.  You must have a permit.  Or else. Oh, and a permit to move between provinces. Or else. If you must. Or else.

I hear bells ringing.  South Africa has a national curfew.  Again.

The dompas is back. Again.

That’s not all.

The about turn

On Wednesday, as the minister was rambling on, I wasn’t paying attention because I was faffing in the kitchen.  The Husband was watching the ticker at the bottom of the TV screen and suddenly said, “No cigarettes!”


I checked Twitter.  Sure enough.

I sat down to watch. What the Minister of Co-operative Governance, went on to say was, at best, laughable. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is a medical doctor, former Minister of Health and an rabid anti-smoking campaigner:  she advised that more than 2,000 submissions opposed the sale of cigarettes, tobacco and vaping products.  The health rationale is a given.  Partly.  I’ll come back to this. Then she said –

the way tobacco is shared does not allow for social distancing…When people zol, they put saliva on the paper, and then they share that zol


zol is a hand-rolled cigarette which often includes marijhana.  It’s not having a joint that’s the problem;  we may grow our own ganja.  We just can’t sell it (which has nothing to do with Covid-19 or the lockdown…).  In the time of Covid-19, according to the South African Command Council, it’s sharing a cigarette that spreads the disease.

I’ll come back to this.

Who is old and at risk?

Up to this point I have, by and large, been enormously proud of the way the South African government has managed the Covid-19 pandemic.  I have endorsed the lockdown, in principle.  I said so. I spoke about the significant proportion of the population at risk because of HIV and TB.  What I didn’t delve into was overall life expectancy and the incidence of deaths from non-communicable diseases – just over 26% of all deaths.

The table below suggests that if one is over 60, one is old.  Women live, on average, three years longer than their male counterparts.


I am approaching 60;  The Husband is over 70.  It’s quite a thing to be told one is old because the demographics say so.  Especially if one is healthy.  In this village, we are surrounded by sassy over 60’s who could put many 40 and 50 year-olds to shame.  We won’t talk about the 70- and 80-year olds who have the stamina to boogy the night away and bang a ball around a tennis court two to three times a week.

Old people must stay at home

Does this include our Minister of Health who, himself, along with many in cabinet, are well over 60?  Oh, and speaking of Mkhize, he’s asthmatic….

Although these data are from 2016, they do paint a useful picture of the population’s characteristics.  Other than being old, which one can’t help, it’s the chronic conditions that make people particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.  At a briefing on Tuesday,  the Minister of Health said that most of the deaths in South Africa were among people with comorbidities.  He specifically mentioned hypertension and diabetes but added a third:  obesity.  This adds another risk factor when one considers the proportion of South Africans who are overweight:


This is a significant proportion of South Africans;  obesity is a burgeoning problem.  What these figures do not show, is how many of those who are overweight are also diabetic.  It’s common knowledge, though, that the two often go hand in hand.

Back to tobacco

The logic behind the ban on the sale of tobacco and vaping products is perplexing.  To say the least.  I am not a smoker; never have been.  However, I grew up with smokers and I’m surrounded by people who do.  I, and they, are all aware of the health risks associated with the habit.  Like many addicts, they don’t care. Even if it does put them at higher risk of disease.  Including Covid-19.  At least one smoker in my friendship circle has said so.

The experts do say that there is an almost immediate benefit to the lungs when someone stops smoking.  However, I also know, from having lived with people who have quit, that in the six to twelve months after, they seem particularly vulnerable to colds and flu.

With all that in mind, let’s have another look at the actual proportion of the nearly 58 million South Africans who smoke.


Those figures mean that there are fewer people in the country who smoke than there are people who are overweight.  Yet, as some wag on social media suggested, there’s been no ban on sugary drinks, chocolates, sweets, confectionary….

The ban on the sale of cigarette and tobacco products defies logic.

It’s a one-size-fits-all approach that seems to pander to the members of the local temperance society.  Or does it?


South Africa’s history is full of prohibitions.  That’s what Apartheid was about.  Prohibiting certain groups of people from doing, accessing, and generally being human beings.  It criminalised normal human behaviour.  Including the home-based manufacture of alcohol.  Virtually every South African community has stories of making one form of moonshine or another, from mampoer to umqombothi.  Not all good.  Especially when it came to the heavy hand of the law.

Prohibiting the sale of alcohol and cigarettes has, on one hand, robbed the government of desperately needed cash.  On the other, it’s contributed to an existing black market – with all the nasty things that go with it.  Violence and extortion.  As with all black market commodities, it’s a case of who one knows and price.  Said a friend who lives in a suburb of Cape Town:

I can give you the names …. and who they allow the selling of alcohol through or even which shop and which items to ask for in order to get your stock. Everyone and everything has a price.

It’s the old story of supply and demand.  Those who don’t have access to those channels resorted to mobbing and looting.  The existing gang leaders probably don’t need lessons from Al Capone and Lucky Luciano.

Oh, and since then, it would seem that she who made those pronouncements, has an association with that ilk.

Cigarettes: a symbol of oppression?

As more and more people, far more learned or erudite than I, question the rationality of this decision, questions are also being asked about the deeper significance of aspects of the restrictions associated with the lockdown.

When the lockdown was just being mooted and the fear and paranoia of this invisible enemy began to seep into our conversations, there were laughing suggestions that the gates of the village should be closed.  The fear of the unknown, and unseen is how it begins. We get caught up in the headlines and soundbites and don’t delve into the mire beneath.  We should.  It’s as scary as it is enlightening.

Yes, the numbers are scary.  Yes, this disease is ugly, horrible and has no cure. No, I don’t want to get it.  No, I don’t want anyone I love to get it.  Yes, they might. That frightens me.

It’s these emotions that are fed by the numbers that are spewed out and not interrogated.  We need to remember that the mortality rate is between 1 and 5% depending on the population.  That means that many, many more people survive the virus than succumb.

Tools for Control

It’s this perspective that neither governments nor the news media foreground.  Instead, they frighten us so that we want to set ourselves apart from people who might be contaminated.  That is how stigma begins.

Fear is one of the tools that governments use to control their subjects.

Another is the big data that they collect: the information we readily (and not so readily) give away in our internet searches, social media activities and with out mobile phones.  The ubiquitous mobile phone has become a critical mechanism for the tracking and tracing of potential Covid-19 cases.  You don’t have watch CSI or Criminal Minds to catch my drift.

Yes, they need to find potential super-spreaders. They need to find, treat and heal people who are ill.

After Covid-19

When all this is over, what will they do with the data they’ve collected?  Our data.

Edward Snowden is concerned.  He says we should be, too.

Will we be able to legally buy and enjoy a glass of wine and a fag?  Where and with whom we please?

Will we be able to do more than break virtual bread and have virtual birthday parties?

These are vexing questions, not just for South Africans, but for other countries, too, where civil liberties have been severely curtailed.  In the interests of public health.

Bastardising another cliché, there may be short term gains, but one does have to wonder about the longer term implications once this disease, as the Spanish flu did, peters out.

Is it a fine balancing act, or a slippery slope?

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 and more recently share my burbling on Uptrennd and with the occasional post on Medium.