Conversations on a Farm

I was always envious my father never bought me an Alfa Romeo.

I remember when he bought me a new Honda after Uncle Piet’s Peugeot was stolen at medical school, and Uncle Philip asked him why he didn’t buy me a smart car, like a BMW or Alfa Romeo. My father didn’t answer.

Although all the properties he and my uncle owned  were held by  companies,  I don’t remember  the holding of the farm on the Magaliesburg ; my father really bought it for me. In retrospect this was much better than a fancy car.

I don’t ever remember going to the farm with my father, although I must have. They bought it in the late seventies. It was on the road between Magaliesburg town and Oliefantsnek, just before the stall that sold biltong on the mountain side of the road.  There was a dip in the main road as you turned right through the open gate to ace the cliffs of the Magaliesberg. Late afternoon was best, in winter after the veld fires stained the sunset with orange, and lit up the cliffs in surreal light. The road was sandy and went straight towards the mountain. At the entrance to the neighbour’s farm there was a gate on the left to our farm. Then shortly after that a gate leading straight to a small dam and on the right, a gate to the house. This passed from a grove of Blue gums into indigenous bush, with a donga paralleling the road on the right. First you passed the labourer’s kaia and then the citrus grove; lemons, oranges and naartjies. Further up the road was the main rondavel on the left, with a smaller rondavel housing the bathe and toilets, a small greenhouse and two flats apart from the main dwelling. A large open shed divided the flats. The borehole was slight back, between the shed and the smaller flat.

I remember this so well because after I graduated I spent 3 months living there. My father said nothing, which I took to be approval. I used an old Nissan Twincab 4×4 bakkie and cleared the farm of all the debris the previous elderly owner had accumulated. I used the dump this in Rustenburg, about half an hour’s drive away. I set up a sprinkler system for the citrus grove. I fixed up the hothouse behind the rondavel. I built a braai out of rock and cement under the shade of the big trees far enough from the thatch of the rondavels not to cause concern.

Then in the afternoon I would take Kristen, my border collie, and walk up the screed through the scrub to the cliffs, and climb these to watch the sunset, sometimes with the baboons. The sunsets were spectacular, as you looked over bush and cattle country, interspersed with mealie farms. When they were really impressive I stayed up too late and made my way in the dark as I knew the paths so well.

After I moved to Durban and my father knew I was not coming back to Johannesburg they sold the farm. But not before Ines and I drove up and spent the weekend there.

Conversations about Cats

My mom shouted down the passage while my father was still in bed.

“Peter, come see. Basil slept with Gina last night.”

Not the sort of thing you say in a conservative Greek household when your son is 17 years old. Not just that Gina was Italian and not Greek, but that Gina sounded like a woman. Actually, Gina was a cat, a grey striped cat’ I think from the pet shop on the road behind the offices. Why Gina? Well, she looked like and behaved like a “Gina” cat. Did I know a Gina then? No. Perhaps it was the idea of Gina Lollobrigida who graced the Friday evening movie screen at home occasionally?

But my father was angry. His son shouldn’t be sleeping with a woman. Not in the house, heaven forbid. Then when he saw the kitten he was still angry. Not at the practical joke, he enjoyed those. But at the fact that a pet had spent the night in a bedroom. That was also anathema in the conservative Greek household. We had had a cat before, Lord Mortimer, who lost and eye and was one of the first cats to have a cataract operation in the remaining eye at Onderstepoort. But Morty slept away from us, and he was a fine rat catcher. He had a job in the conservative Greek household. But Gina was to lead a life of luxury.

To me she was just a Gina Cat. She was the wildest of the kittens, very playful and could easily find the highest spot anywhere in the house to ambush you. She grew old but never lost that playfulness. She was the first of the cats in my life. My father always used to rush off to work. Many years later when he and my mom adopted 2 collies from Border Collie Rescue he was confronted by a dog psychologist. My mom was worried the dogs were not settling in, so she called in a dog whisperer. She was at home early one morning when my father rushed out. She stopped him.

“You can’t rush out like that. You’ll upset the dogs.” “What?” “You need to take time to talk to them before you leave. Tell them you’ll be back”

Which is a useful thing to do with any loved one…

One morning my father was rushing off to work and drove over Gina and killed her. I was devastated. A few weeks later I got a new cat, white with one green eye and one blue eye. No, I didn’t call her Elizabeth Tailor; her name was Fabiana.