Conversations on Paper Diaries

I use an electronic diary now at work. I remember my father used a small wallet size paper diary. In the early days he carried this in his white shirt pocket and made constant reference to its contents, planning his busy day.

At work, his secretary would be called to bring the larger bound diary at times for him to peruse and add items.

He had a scrawly writing. He was born left hander, but in the forties when he was at school he was trained to write with his right hand. He could still write with his left hand, but the writing was equally bad. He would have made a great doctor with such bad writing.

I don’t remember the contents of his diary at all. In the seventies he had an Olympus Micro cassette recorder and would speak reminders into this state of the art technology, with tapes smaller than a box of matches that could hold twenty minutes of recording. When he got to the office he would give the tape to his secretary who would then enter items in his diary and type of the letters for him on an Olivetti Golf Ball typewriter.

I remember being impressed that you could change the golf ball on these machines and thus the font. I only ever saw one other option of font. Imagine the joy now with a computer and endless options of font thanks to Steve Jobs, who died last week.

I remember him being organised and efficient. That was a fact of the times. I remember him working long hours, not because he was inefficient, but because of everything he did: running the business, looking for new sites, looking for new business options, being director of some or other bank, meeting with old friends and bank managers, visiting sick people, running the community at Alberton, organising the Hellenic Federation and giving his heart for SAHETI.

One cannot imagine that he had time for us. During the week he may have dropped us off at primary school. When we got to high school we used to cycle. In the evenings he would come home late and always open the door to kiss me goodnight on the forehead. Yet he took 6 weeks holiday a year in winter and transported us to Greece to live in the village, occasionally visiting the sea. Every year until I could not go any longer for six weeks, and he continued. I am not sure how many other people could give that sort of time to their family? So the diary must have helped. But he did not use it in Greece.

For all the electronics now and fonts on the computer, I still keep a paper diary and write in it every evening with a soft blue ink. It helps to record the day.

Conversations about Gold Bullion

I have treasures of gold coins; some from my grandfather, most from my father, and one from my uncle.

There are many Kruger Rands, an American gold dollar and I have invested in some Mandela and Robin Island coins.

There were many more Jews in Alberton in the early days. They had much more of an influence on our lives then. I remember my father’s investment algorithm he absorbed from them, which he explained to me when I asked him about investment strategies.

“The old Jews used to say you should invest one third of your money in cash, one third in property and one third in stocks.”

Then remember he was a qualified Financial Advisor. He advised a few wealthy professionals ( and did not like it when they bought Porches) and he was a director of the Bank of Athens. He foresaw the world economic crisis and was no doubt aware of the impending Greek debt crisis. With the first dip in 2007 he saved a few stock investors by warning them. None of them thanked him. So when he did not warn them about the main crash; they were upset he had not warned them.

So why did he do differently?  All his wealth was tied up in property. Other than the thousands of homes they built to sell, I can recall only a few properties they sold: the farm in Meyerton, then the farm in the Magaliesburg. I met a dentist once who bought a small commercial building from my father when I know the company’s cash flow was at an ebb. I suppose I would have to talk to my cousin John and Uncle Arthur for details. It’s a kind of hoarding. But each building meant something to him. He knew when it was built, who they builders were, what the finance background was, who the first tenants were.He remembered every detail like it was one of his children.

I think it was the same with gold coins. And gold jewellery. He had amassed a significant collection which we stored in a big Chubb safe at home. In the early nineties we were robbed at home. Some armed men posing as appliance  servicemen held my mother up at gunpoint and forced the maid to call the office. When my father and his brother arrived they were powerless. After the head of my mother was cracked open by a pistol butt, they opened the safe and all my father’s gold was lost to some criminals who didn’t know anything about the history of each piece.

Funny, though, the history remains and we have bought more gold to tell more stories. This time we have to write it down.

Below is the ending of  the note my father gave me when I graduated in 1988.


Conversations on Pizza Ovens

It was a misty evening at Mbona. The hills were quiet in the fold of the white blanket that covered them. The wattle wood sizzled in the pizza oven as we started to cook our favourites. The first ones are always duds, until you get the fire and timing right. Or this time, until the oven exploded. Rainwater had been accumulating in the base and had become superheated and exploded, launching shrapnel of pizza and volcanic rock through the chimney and oven door…. It was a gut wrenching boom that signalled the end of the oven that my Uncle Arthur had sent down for us.

The first pizza oven I cooked with was the one my father had built at home. It may have been built by a Portuguese tiler, because it was not domed. It was next to his taverna and lay on a base of stock bricks. The base and top were built with fire bricks and grouted with a fine volcanic ash. The length of the oven was half a cylinder. It was big enough to fit a whole lamb inside. My father had devised a complex quarter inch steel sliding door which was heavy and difficult to use when hot. His favourite food to cook in the oven was kleftiko. He had special ceramic pots that he would fill with lamb, feta, tomatoes and oregano. I suppose also some olive oil and lemon juice; after all, we are Greek.

I learnt how to make pizza from Mr Scoutarides. He was a multilingual talented cook hairdresser and storyteller. He was from Egypt, and made divine little babba which he served hot with syrup and ice cream. So I spent a few times at his restaurant downstairs from my father’s office watching him make pizza, taking notes on the dough. The only other homemade pizza I had had at that stage was Mrs Cerrai’s; thick crusted, delectable but made in a kitchen oven.

I progressed from that oven to the one in Greece. My father built a proper village fourno where the old stables used to lie. In the village there is a sense of economy and efficiency. They flash burn thin vine twigs that heat the oven up in twenty minutes and then bake meat and bread in it afterwards. To do pizza you need a hotter oven and one day I used up the whole season’s supply of wood in my attempt to delight the villagers. My father’s cousin, Costa, was not delighted. A shepherd by trade he just sat there, eating nothing, waiting for the meat.

At my home in Durban I have a gas pizza oven. Not quite the real thing, but for the busy suburban doctor it works well. It works better to remind me of the ovens I have cooked in; all those pizzas I have made.

Last year a restaurateur friend took us to the pizzeria in Sorrento. It was where he learnt to cook. I think I should spend a few days there mastering my pizzaiola skills.