Out of The Hat column, Stanford River Talk (October, 2013)
There are a plethora of reasons why we Stanfordians have been drawn to live in this little, old village.
I have a plethora all of my own.
One, one that I have grown to hugely appreciate and cherish over the past three and a bit years, is simplicity.
This is never more beautifully apparent than when I sit at my kitchen window in the mornings and look out over what I call “my back garden sanctuary”… and beyond that to the fields, where rainwater lakes have formed, and where Howard’s horses graze along with a group of fallow deer and guinea fowl and geese and ducks. And whatever else blew in overnight.
Beyond all of this are the magnificent trees that line the river. And the river, flowing purposefully towards the lagoon, now an estuary blissfully married to the ocean.
Out of The Hat column, Stanford River Talk, May 2013.
I can see it now.
Queen Victoria Street, Saturday morning… people milling about at the morning market, Brydon’s lemon tart in one hand, Elsa’s mozzarella in the other, and complaining in a genteel and socially decorous manner about what happened to Tracy’s trees and the fact that the Municipality sat fatly by and did diddly-very-squat about it.
Then a hush falls over the small gathering. A lemon tart makes a ka-plop as it falls, lemony side-down of course, on cold, hard concrete. A Yorkshire Terrier squeaks as the weight of a Stanford Info leaflet drifts gently past its ear.
Many faces all turn sharply in one direction and reflect absolute horror. Well, OK, not horror… more a face-mash of wonder and consternation, lightly garnished with escalating anxiety.
Stanford’s children, practically all of them and from every corner of the village, are coming down Queen Victoria Street. And not just strolling, as they usually do in that somewhat directionless we’re-not-quite-sure-where-we’re-going-but-we-are sure-we’re going-to-have-fun way that Stanford’s children appear to have perfected. No. Not at all. Not today.
My “Out of The Hat” column, first published in Stanford River Talk, the quite extraordinary little local newspaper that serves (and I mean serves) my village – April, 2013.
I STEP out of the shower I share with large frogs, even bigger spiders, any size and number of exquisitely hand-painted moths and and am immediately enveloped by the heat once more.
Sipping the dark, bitter remnants of last night’s sweet, black tea, I feel the mountain-dew breeze diffusing through the fly-defying mesh of the screen door and on to my chest, prickling my still-damp skin with it’s early autumn cool-creep.
The vista from my front door is the same, as always. In that is is constantly changing. The aimlessly scudding clouds, the groping, gripping mist and the love of the light all conspire to create new mountain edges, resketching a familiar landscape in my mind. Doves clatter inconsiderately through the leaves into the tree, just outside my wonky gate, where they have chicks to feed.
Once a month I am afforded the privilege of writing what I like about what I like (or sometimes don’t like) in our little gem of a local newspaper, Stanford River Talk.
What I had planned to write about this month was my most recent roadtrip, one which was meant to take Lucille and I to Montagu and beyond, to places I had never seen. Instead, I got as far as a retreat in McGregor and stayed. There was a reason for this, as there is for everything. I was taken on a journey of the spirit and soul. And left feeling replenished and uplifted. I had been taken to a place within me which I was required to look at.
But I can’t write anymore about this. Because my experience of two even more recent journeys have occupied my mind. And heart. And soul.
They were certainly not planned. And they happened within four days of each other.
On the Tuesday, I found myself driving to Bredasdorp, To stand at the very spot where a 17-year-old girl had had her body taken from her. In every terrible way imaginable. You will know the story of Anene. It is a story which South Africans must never forget. Because if we are to even begin to scratch the despicable surface of reversing the pandemic of rape and abuse of women in our country then Anene Booysen, and the countless and unnamed others like her, must never be forgotten. Bredasdorp was another trip I had to make. And it still haunts me.
Four days later I stood on a beautiful farm just outside our village and, with you and you and you and you, paid tribute to a little life lost. There is little comparison to be made with what I had experienced a few days before except, once again, I was taken on a painful and extraordinary journey.
I know I’m a bit early for Women’s Day (August 8th) but I want to share something I just read in our local community newspaper, the Stanford River Talk, edited by Michelle Hardie.
Two things. Two quotes.
“It is a wonderful advantage to a man, in every pursuit or avocation, to secure an advisor in a sensible woman. In a woman there is at once a delicacy of tact and a plain soundness of judgement which are rarely combined in an equal degree in a man. A woman, if she really be your friend, will have a sensitive regard for your character, honour, repute. She will seldom councel (sic) you to do a shabby thing; for a woman friend always desires to be proud of you.” – The Earl of Lytton (1831-1891).
The Earl of Lytton: a sharp dude
“Let’s say there’s a meeting… If the chairperson is a man and he is dealing with a tough case, he’ll say ‘Let’s finish this matter at our next meeting’. The reason is simple; he wants to go and ask his wife’s advice! Viva Women’s Day!” – Aron Gcotyelwa, Stanford resident.
Right. In about 96 hours time, 94,700 crazy people will be frenzying around inside the illuminated calabash that is Johannesburg’s Soccer City as South Africa and Mexico light the wick of the fizz-pop fandango that is to be the 2010 World Cup.
And stretching across every country on our globe, billions will crane their necks to get the best view possible of the opening match. They will see many things on Saturday night… and one view may be this visual treat…
Jo'burg's Soccer City: not an altogether shabby football ground, is it?
No, we quite like it. Not as aesthetically gorgeous as Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium, perhaps, but it’ll do. Fine. So the globe is going to get to see a lot of Jo’burg, Durbs and Cape Town. And maybe a bit more of Bloemfontein and Rustenburg than they would bargain for. But what of South Africa’s small towns, verdant-valleyed villages and rusty-hued hamlets, secreted away behind mountains and filed away, collecting dust, in corners of deserts?
Well, what of them? Are there flags flying in their rutted main roads? Are there rainbow-razzmatazz mirror socks being worn by their donkey-carts? Well? I think, if you wandered into the Karoo today, you’d get a big surprise. And I have another surprise for you.
If you drove out of Cape Town on the R43 tomorrow, bounced over Sir Lowry’s Pass and snaked past the whale-watchers’ paradise of Hermanus, you would – after two hours or so – come across a sumptuous Overberg village that goes by the name of Stanford. You would have to look out for it because you could easily miss it. As many poor, unsuspecting travellers do. But if you catch sight of the Sir Robert Stanford wine estate and you started to slow down next to the Syringa Kennels, you would notice the entrance to the town.
Continue for 250 metres or so down Queen Victoria Street, the main drag, and you will stumble upon this…
Stanford Village Green: not quite Soccer City... but it's ours Pic: Hatman
Yes, that’s our green (well, it’ll be greener after the winter rains). A lot of things happen on this village green. Cricket, horse races, sunset markets, biggest pumpkin competitions… but mostly ladies walking their dogs after a satisfactory afternoon tea. And, I have discovered, it’s a great place to lie on one’s back and stargaze after a hefty night down the pub.
Unlike those crammed into Soccer City this weekend, we won’t be seeing any stars on the field. But we’re doing the best we can. Folks, roll up… roll up to the Overstrand Rainbow Five-a-side Soccer Extravaganza. Our village green will be transformed into a mini-football fest with local teams puffing about, trying to settle old scores, market stalls, coaching clinics… and probably one or two ladies pretending not to notice while walking the dog after yet another highly satisfactory cream tea.
Yes, that’s how we roll in quaint, beautiful Stanford, one of the finest preserved Victorian villages in the fairest Cape. But roll we do. The media will be there to document the festivities. Not Sky Sports or the London Guardian or ESPN or the New York Times. But the Stanford River Talk, the Hermanus Times, Whale Talk Magazine, Whale Coast 96.5fm, the Fasttrax Marine film company and the Fijn Bush Telegraph will be reporting on our main World Cup event, so that people tending to their farms in even more isolated parts of our little piece of the world will learn of it.
Here is the authentic heartbeat of our great country, tiny specks on the map which will not see the likes of Messi, Rooney and Kaka in the flesh. But we will have fun anyway. And the proceeds of our fun will go to the Hermanus Trust, a local educational and social NGO, and the benefits will be felt long after the last ball is kicked.
Local businesses taking part are, among others, La Finestra Restaurant, Stanford Hills Estate, Pam Golding (Stanford), Stanford River Talk, Gypseys Restaurant and Birkenhead Brewery. the first match kicks off at 9am on Friday, June 11 with the final being played on Saturday, June 12. A floating trophy will be presented to the winning team.
So to those fortunate enough to watch Steven Pienaar split the Mexican defence with an inch-perfect pass for Katlego Mphela on Saturday, we Stanfordians say: “Give them horns, guys!” And, we solemnly promise, if we spot a new Steven Pienaar in the making on our village green this weekend, we’ll start grooming him for the 2018 World Cup. Ayoba!
Not all of you are totally as one with what football and the World Cup is all about. For those who could be accurately described as soccer ignoramuses to get the most out of their World Cup viewing, here is some sort of non-essential 10-point guide to what they call The Beautiful Game…
1. “Soccer” is really football. Well, this is what it is called in Britain, where the game originated, but that confused the Americans because they already had American football (grid-iron, that game they play while wearing spacesuits). So they renamed it “sarker” (ie soccer, which is an abbreviation of “Association Football”, the official British name given to distinguish football from Rugby Football which, as everyone at the Stanford Arms on a Saturday evening knows, is rugby, or “ruckby” in Afrikaans). It’s fine if you are confused… because we all are!
2. There is a saying, attributed to “a certain Chancellor of Cambridge University” and quoted in the Times of London on January 30, 1953, which goes… “Football (soccer) is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen”. This appears to be generally true although it perhaps should now be updated to “Football (soccer) is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, rugby is a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen, apart from Bakkies Botha”. Rugby fans could also be forgiven for changing this to “Soccer is a wussy game played by sissies” due to the over-the-top rolling around in “extreme agony” executed by soccer players when they recognise the opportunity to get an opponent cautioned (yellow carded) or even sent off (red carded) after any decent tackle which is unlikely to even result in the tackled player receiving the slightest bruise.
Oh, dear. When soccer players aren't rolling around like big girls blouses trying to get opponents sent off, they celebrate goals like this. Not ideal.
3. OK. Time for some other basic rules. Football used to be played between two teams each consisting of 11 on-field players, a couple of substitutes (who replaced an on-field player if he died) and a manager who would do all the coaching of the players. It is now played by two teams consisting of 11 on-field players, at least five substitutes (who come on to replace a player if he is bleeding in any way or if he has picked up a bruise or if he is feeling tired and feels like a sip of Energade or if his hairstyle has been spoilt or if time needs to be wasted towards the end of the 90 minutes to ensure a draw or a win), a manager, several coaches (goalkeeping, defensive, attacking and general method acting), a psychotherapist, a specialist dietician and a small army of hairdressers. Plus a whole bunch of other hangers-on who I’m not going to bother telling you about.
4. Right. Now the whole point of a game is for one of the 10 out-field players (the goalkeeper, who wears a different colour jersey, generally stays in the goals to try to stop the other team from scoring) to whack the ball using any part of his body apart from his hands into the opposing team’s goal. This is called a goal. And you need to score more of them than the other team to win. If both teams score the same number of goals (eg. 1-1, 2-2 etc) after the “normal period” of 90 minutes, then the match, if is part of a knock-out competition such as the World Cup (apart from the group games), goes to extra-time (two halves of 15 minutes) and if, after that, it is still a draw, a penalty shoot-out ensues. This is a reasonably modern addition to the game to stop a replay having to take place and to indulge the modern fan’s predilection for instant gratification.
5. Fine. Still with me? Good! OK. Player formations. This was very simple back in the day. There was the goalkeeper (who wore No 1 on his back), two full-backs (No’s 2 and 3), a centre-back (No 5), two wing-halves (No’s 4 & 6) and, up front, there was a right-wing (7), inside-right (8), centre-forward (9), inside-left (10) and left-wing (11). Nice and simple, hey? Today, of course, we need it to be more complicated. The goalkeeper has stayed the same and generally wears No 1 on his back but coaches like to, depending on whether the team is playing at home or away and who they are playing against, use a variety of formations: 4-4-2 (four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers), 4-3-3, 5-3-2 or, in the case of Inter Milan’s semi-final second leg against Barcelona in this year’s Champions League (in which they were defending a 3-1 lead away from home) 9-0-1 (nine defenders and one very bored striker). With the amount of money at stake these days, it’s win at all costs, bru. Or get sacked.
6. Talking of money, which we know makes our greedy world go round and certainly makes the very professional round-ball game go round and round, we now get to the really important facts. Top-level players in the English Premier League get paid between 50 and 150 thousand pounds sterling a week. By their clubs. For playing football. Yes. That averages out at about R1.4 million a week. Can you imagine being 25, being of below average intelligence and coining it like that? That’s why many pro footballers get into trouble. After they’ve bought the mansion, the Aston Martin, the Lamborghini and the gold-plated Playstation, they often start spending the rest on naughty things, get caught out by a tabloid newspaper, have to explain their behaviour to their girlfriends and mummies and become even more famous. And then they carry on playing football, become even more famous and get paid more money. Nice work if you can get it, hey?
Victoria Beckham: Well ropey. With a WAG like this, a footballer could be excused for playing away. Or sticking to kissing his team-mates.
7. Because these players earn so much dosh for doing so little and become so famous, they usually only date topless models and then marry fully clothed models and dodgy pop singers. Yes, like Victoria Beckham (formerly Posh Spice). Even if you know nothing about football, you will know about this phenomenon. WAGs (or Wives And Girlfriends). Then famous footballer and famous wife “endorse” all sorts of washing-up products, shampoos and budgie cages and become even more wealthy and famous. And this is because many among us like to watch Gossip TV, read OK! Magazine and believe all the dross put out by agents and ad agencies who live similar lifestyles. I’m not at all jealous. No, really. But I digress… back to football.
8. By the time you read this, there will be less than two weeks to go before the World Cup opening ceremony at our magnificent Soccer City Stadium in Jo’burg. It’s a great shame that it is not called Nelson Mandela Stadium instead of being made to sound like a giant shopping mall selling only footballs. But there’s nothing you and I can do about that. What we can do is choose to embrace the 2010 World Cup being held in our beautiful country or not. It’s up to you. Unless you live here in Stanford, our tranquil oasis, and don’t buy newspapers or switch on the TV for a month. In which case life will continue pretty much as normal. But I urge you to take an interest in the most wonderful thing to ever happen to us. Buy a Bafana Bafana jersey (make sure it’s not a fake), blow a vuvuzela (but not after 10pm at night and certainly nowhere near the Arts Cafe where you’ll only upset the cappucino crowd) and at least attend the local soccer tournament being held on the village green on June 11. It’s going to be a lekker jol.
9. There will be 32 nations represented at this World Cup. They include Brazil, Italy, Germany and Argentina (who take turns to win it) and countries such as Honduras (somewhere in South America), Slovenia (which used to be part of another country and is somewhere in the Balkans) and the USA (which used to be restricted to North America but now seems to be everywhere). The 32 squads are split into eight groups of four. The top two teams in each group after the group games go through to the last 16 and start the knock-out phase until two teams are left to contest the final on July 11. I exhort you to be patriotic and support Bafana Bafana (which translates into “The Boys” in English) but you’d be delusional to expect them to make the final. But we live in hope. And we South Africans are better at living in hope than winning really important international soccer matches. So you never know.
10. OK. Please focus. This is the most important thing about the World Cup. I’m really sorry about all those locals who got really excited and turned their homes into guesthouses for one month of football in the hope of making a quick buck and becoming as rich as Wayne Rooney. It was never going to happen. And it won’t. Football fans the world over are generally working-class and won’t spend much on anything other than alcohol, take-aways and riotous visits to various brothels. They’d rather sleep on a park bench and have more cash to spend on beer the next day. No, the “Big Win” for South Africa will come in a couple of years’ time when those billions of wealthier people all over the planet, after watching South Africa show off it’s natural splendour and human warmth during the World Cup, might decide to take their holidays here. And bring aircraft carrier-loads of dosh to throw at game parks, hotels, wine estates, restaurants and fancy shops. So the real spin-offs will be felt in years to come. So much to look forward to. Be patient. Just as well we South Africans are good at doing that too, hey?
*This article was originally commissioned by Stanford River Talk, the excellent community newspaper for the ridiculously beautiful village of Stanford in the Western Cape, and appears in its June issue