Six Stories from Struisbaai

1. There are lots of fishermen (women) at Struisbaai. They set up their lines and fish from fish5the beach, but there’s not much to catch. Often they hook only sand sharks. Often they don’t bother to chuck them back. Round a braai, last night, I herad that the
sharks are just left to die slowly  on the beach. Nobody eats sand sharks, I think. Here’s a dead fish I saw on my walk this morning. There is something eerie about a dead fish. It seems to be smiling at one.

2. Still with the braai, I told a man last night he was a ‘very good cook’. He looked offended and I thought perhaps there was an error in translation – he was Afrikaans (‘cook’ / ‘koek’). No, no, he said, he didn’t cook; he ‘braaied’.

3. On the beach yesterday afternoon I saw a man in lateish middle-age, portly around the middle, in a cowboy hat and a peach shirt (plus shorts – can’t remember the color), hit his partner, a fatter man dressed entirely in black, rather hard, with two slip slops. ‘That must have hurt,’ I said. The one in the peach shirt flashed me a grin. ‘I like to abuse him.’  I had a sense they were probably the neighbors.

4. We passed a tractor fair on our way back from the OK Bazaars yesterday. I thought of getting out and having a look around. I even imagined that we had one which was getting a bit rusty. But then it was too hot and the queues at the OK had gone all the way to the back of the shop right to the bakery.


5. A guy died yesterday in Porterville, I head last night. He’d traveled there from Israel to go paragliding. But it’s dangerous to paraglide at Porterville because you use the thermals, which is what birds do as well. This means you can shoot up very fast into the air, at something like  55 km / hour, and of course that makes it very unpredictable. The Israeli websites were already reporting the man’s death, though not yet in South Africa.

6. The water was so warm that the youngest child became delirious with delight. He danced and marched and went running into the waves, despite that fact that he can’t swim. Okay that wasn’t  a story really, more of an observation. So it doesn’t actually count.

joshie beach.jpg

Ten things I’ve learnt about travel

I hadn’t been overseas since a year before Joshua’s birth (he’s now five) and now I’m doing two overseas trips – Mauritius, Rome – in quick succession. Like having an extended *dry spell* and then having two rapid one-night stands in a row, you suddenly realise there’s fun to be had, if you can just set it up right.

Here are ten things I’ve learnt:

  1. There are many ways to get to the same place. That’s not a deeper psychological point. It’s just that if you miss one bus, you can always take another.
  2. Going to museums is like sifting through rubbish: most of it is junk, but sometimes you’ll stumble across a treasure. One person’s treasure is another person’s trash. At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Rome (mostly fairly dull), I walked into a room that showed photographs of a man ageing alongside a duf-duf-duf soundtrack from a video some distance away. Perhaps it was the strange pairing of these two media, but I had an intense, and utterly memorable, feeling of death anxiety and vertigo. At a sixteenth century rich banker’s house down the road from us, I saw how small his bedroom was and how lush and sumptuous he kept his dining and waiting room.
  3. Wherever you go, someone is taking a selfie. Learn to walk around selfie sticks.
  4. Related point: over time, everywhere becomes a spot for selfies. The Colosseum colosseummight have once been a venue for mass executions and blood-letting (the Romans swept the floor regularly to prevent the slipperiness of the blood impacting negatively on the ‘games’), but now it’s an agreeable selfie-spot, especially for Japanese tourists.
  5. South Africans regard themselves as a friendly, nice lot. But others are just as nice, if not more so.
  6. Be direct. Greg met an ancient academic at a conference who, when he’d heard enough of what Greg had said or didn’t like what he was saying, would calmly say ‘Enough,’ and Greg would then keep quiet. This strategy, if applied more widely, would probably lead to fewer fights, bad feelings and divorces.
  7. There are three stages: recovering from the trip there, feeling you’ve been there a million years, girding oneself for the trip back.
  8. Sometimes the most foreign feature of a place is the colour of the sky. Even a slightly more intense shade of blue lends a surreal tone to experience, made more dreamlike if no one else is remarking on it.
  9. The sense that you must always be having a good time is a throwback to the eighties and best avoided. Similarly, the feeling that trinkets must be purchased for everyone at home.
  10. Tsunamis generated in the Indian Ocean pose a threat to all the countries of the region, including Mauritius. Remember: a tsunami will get you one day, but not yet.


Romans drink their cappuccinos tepid

There are two groups of people in the world: those who read guide books before going on holiday and those who don’t.

‘Your father was always trying to make me do that before we went away, but I never did,’ my mother said to me this weekend, part scathingly, because how could I do something so nerdy, and rome guide bookpartly triumphantly, because she’d escaped all that guide book reading over the years. She’d caught me at my dirty worst, reading a book on Rome. My mother’s only interested in a place once she’s visited it already, but then she’s someone who prefers the past to the future.

To be honest, guide books are fairly fucking boring, but that’s their advantage. It’s just a way to calm my holiday anxiety. Apparently, it’s a big thing: travel anxiety. I am not alone. A quick perusal of the internet has revealed some tips:

  • Travel anxiety is often due to life anxiety.

Well, that’s bloody unhelpful.

  • You can have travel anxiety and not know about it.

Then who the fuck cares? If you don’t know you have an anxiety, then how can you have an anxiety? My head is hurting.

And this advice:

  • If you find that your anxiety on your trip is acting up, then take a short break from your vacation.

I feel an endless loop coming on of small holidays within larger holidays: Babushka doll nightmare.

I have, however, learnt a few interesting things from my guide book. Romans, apparently, drink their cappuccinos tepid, not hot. I’m happy about that. I’m a big fan of the lukewarm coffee.  And there’s a place around the corner from where we’re staying

Cupd and the three graces3

Cupid and the Three Graces- Raphael. 1517-18. Villa Farnesina. The mistress of the Sienese businessman apparently has her back to us.

that used to belong to a Sienese banker and businessman from the early 1500s. His residence is covered with lavish paintings, including one downstairs that features the back of his mistress. Upstairs is an unimpressive painting, poorly finished because the artist felt he wasn’t bring paid enough. This all sounds familiar: covert bragging about affairs, petty resentments from artists.


This businessman was a bit of a tricky customer. In 1518, he organised a lavish reception to honour Pope Leo X, but he held it in his stables. He was driven by the desire to embarrass his neighbours, the family across the street, by demonstrating that his stables were as elegant as their dining rooms. He also held another reception party later that year on the riverbank where he had the servants throw the silver into the Tiber after each course. Unbeknown to the horrified (impressed?) guests, he’d strung a net below to retrieve the silver when they went home.

You see. Guide books aren’t all bad. I’ll feel I have a friend who’s living – or at least being dead – right around the corner from me. Or if he’s not a friend, at least he’s a kind of person utterly familiar to me who would fit right into this day and age. And that’s some kind of comfort.



We’ve just been on holiday to Struisbaai, the longest beach – stretching for 14 kilometres – in the Southern Hemisphere. If holidays are about reinventing oneself – and aren’t they almost always a little bit about that? – then this time around I became a sporty kind of person. By that, I mean I went into the sea everyday to boogie board. I even started describing waves – glassy, mushy, rollers, crashers.

I’m always fascinated by the concept of ‘the holiday’. What is it that people want from holidays? What do they imagine will happen on holidays? Who do they think they are on holidays, and are they really any different away than at home?


He looks pleased with himself

Some people’s holidays turn out very badly. We went to visit the ship wreck museum in Bredasdorp. This (right) is the prow of the Queen of the Thames, a luxury liner built for travel between England and Australia in the 1870s. The ship altered course late one night to follow the light of Agulhas, but instead ran hard ashore on a reef near Struys Point. They had mistaken a bush fire for the lighthouse. Everybody got to shore safely, but can you imagine those people’s horror at how their holiday turned out?

I liked the story of the ship’s stowaway. When the Queen of the Thames ran aground, he stayed hidden in some bales of wool rather than risk capture. However, after two days he must have got bored and out he came. The man was discovered a while later by a party visiting the wreck. He was playing the piano in the saloon!

If I ever become a stowaway, I’d like to be that cool. I wonder who he was and what became of him.