In this, the fourth of my occasional interviews with interesting people who live in my home village of Stanford in the Western Cape, I ask the “Big Five” questions of Jill Smith, who runs the local agency of Pam Golding Properties.
It is fitting that I publish this interview today, on Women’s Day, because Jill is indeed one of those women who are, at once, strong, feminine and inspiring! But why don’t you see for yourself?
FH: Please give us a little personal background, Jill. Where were you born, schooled, shaped as a person and when and how did you first discover our lovely village of Stanford? And when and how did you and Brian meet?
JS: I was educated in East London and did what was one of only a few career choices young ladies had then – nurse, teacher, airhostess, (very posh) hairdresser and secretary. My Mom loved courtroom dramas so I was to become a Stenographer – not a Shorthand Typist which is what it is – but a Courtroom Stenographer… it sounds so much better! You know the type, glasses perched on the edge of your nose and taking down verbatim all the sordid details.
We all have them. Places where we feel at peace with ourselves. Where we feel immediately at home.
This is how I feel about Stanford. And this how I felt when I first came to Stanford in March, 2008. Instantly at home. At one with the place, the people, the homes, the dogs, the whole beautiful vibe. Just like that.
But, in 2008, I had newspaper work beckoning me in Cape Town and I answered the call, leaving my dogs to revel in Stanfordian bliss in the loving, nurturing hands of dear friend Janika Dorland.
Before the year was out, however, I found myself on a work exchange at a Buddhist Retreat, Bodhi Khaya, near Stanford and the magnetism of this charming market village was again irresistible.
A scene of Stanfordian bliss... come Earth Hour this village green will be plunged into darkness, pinpricks of light illuminating happy, shiny faces
The warmth and easy friendliness of the locals in this village that time has almost forgotten made it easy for me to fit in and now I find myself once again nestling in Stanford’s roomy bosom.
I needed to forge new leads for freelance writing work in Cape Town and I have chosen to do that at a distance. The exact distance between the bustling, stimulating cultural metropolis that is Cape Town and the Western Cape’s largely undiscovered gem, just a relaxed two-hour drive away past Hermanus.
A local has gone on record as saying that “you don’t choose Stanford, Stanford chooses you”. Well, I must have done something to please the spiritual powers-that-be. I say that because, although I am not given to undue flakiness, this blessed village is certainly presided over by a celestial committee of kindred – and overwhelmingly kindly – spirits. In the physical world, it appears to run itself, nudged gently along by the nurturing minds of good folk who were chosen by Stanford’s guiding spirits to protect their legacy.
They (some locals) say that Stanford sits squarely on no fewer than seven ley lines. I must say that nobody has been able (yet) to give me exact GPS co-ordinates for them. But I can tell you that there have been times, golden moments, when I sense that I am tightly embraced by all of them.
This may be when I am walking the “wandelpad” along the edge of the beguiling Klein River, it may come as I stand on the village green (the last remaining one in South Africa) and stare at the blue-purple-green-grey Klein River mountains which semi-circle the village, while I savour a fine cappuccino on the stoep of the Arts Cafe, devour fine food on the vine-smothered verandah of Madre’s Kitchen or even as I sup a pint of locally-brewed Birkenhead ale at The Stanford Arms.
Landlord Jannie Boonzaier checks to ensure that the green light - the only traffic light in the village - is on, signalling that The Stanford Arms is open for boozeness
But, in trying to describe the specialness, the thoroughly unique vibe of Stanford, I know that I fail to do it justice. You simply have to be here, to experience it for yourself. To see whether you are lucky enough to be “chosen” by Stanford. Or temporarily entertained by its charms and then spat out, back from whence you came.
Stanford isn’t for everybody and you would be wrong to perceive any elitism in this. Many have come, been seduced by its allure… and then dumped by this ageless and graceful beauty after whom everybody lusts to have an affair.
The Stanford Galleries' Arts Cafe - the fulcrum of the village - is the best place for a coffee... and to start musing how to begin your passionate affair with the grand and elegant old lady in whose bosom you now sit
Many may find tranquil, becalming Stanford simply too small and sleepy for their tastes. And, indeed, it does appear that the village has fallen aslumber under the compelling spell of its rare natural beauty, if not the magical ley lines.
But, it falls to me to happily report, there are bright young minds working now and anew to change all of that. I have been fortunate to attend a couple of meetings in the two weeks I have been here and the torrent of ideas to pull together all of the glittering strands of Stanford’s charms and put it firmly on South Africa’s tourism must-see map is in full flood.
It is too early to divulge the plans to breathe new life into our old lady but, believe me, there will be compelling reason for people, especially those with children, to veer off their beaten track – if only for a weekend.
Stanford is stirring. Stanford is coming alive. And it starts with its annual celebration of Earth Hour on the Village Square on March 27. The village’s hour-long plunge into darkness on behalf of the environment has, in the past, been low-key, attended by locals and a few curious out-of-towners.
A highly committed woman by the name of Nadia Pheiffer has changed all of that. She and her helpers have called on some fine musicians to create a jazzy vibe around Earth Hour this year. Before they even grace the stages of the world-renowned Cape Town Jazz Festival, the likes of Geln Robertson, Chad Zerf, Piano Ben, saxophonist Les Witz and Johan Dowries will fill the dark night with their jazzy tunes. They will end the festivities with a free jazz jam session.
Much earlier, from 3pm, the High Street will be closed to traffic, allowing the traditional Sunset Market to get into full swing with Stanfords’ antiques shops and trading stores spilling their wares out into the street.
From 6pm onwards the Earth Hour picnickers will converge on the Village Green, eating and making merry until the church bells signal the onset of the hour during which a black darkness and a respectful hush will fall on the village.
I could go on. But I won’t. How much more do you want? Yes. That’s right. You’re sold, aren’t you? You should be. Earth Hour is a phenomenal opportunity for you to do your bit for our fragile environment. And allow Stanford the opportunity to choose you. Well. What are you waiting for?