Thursday 9 August 2012

Battlefield Cape Town

Last Saturday my husband and I accompanied my parents on a tour of the Muizenberg battlefield.

A lot of Capetonians know there was a battle in Muizenberg, but many don't know the whole story or realise that you can actually visit the place where it happened. The two-hour battle (more correctly called a "scuffle" according to our guide, Chris Taylor of the Muizenberg Historical Conservation Society) took place between the British navy and the Dutch garrison at the Cape in 1795. I'm not going to retell the history as you can read all about it in much more accuracy here and here (better yet, get Mr Taylor to give you a tour - he's a great storyteller!). It's an interesting story, though, and it's pity more people don't know about that part of Cape Town's history.

Looking at the "battlefield" today, you could never imagine the chaos of cannonballs whizzing past, dust and smoke, a hastely-built fort falling to pieces, lethal shrapnel flying through the air... In fact, it's all quite peaceful and lovely and is currently available for hire as a wedding or party venue!

It is situated on the mountain side of Main Road, between Muizenberg and St James stations. You'll see this sign next to a small parking lot:

Oh, how I tried to get a photograph of both flags at the same time! Well, here is the flag of the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) otherwise known as the Dutch East India Company:

And here you can sort of see the Union Jack of the time (notice that the flag of St Patrick is missing from the mix):

The battlefield was, up until recently, completely overgrown. Now you get to the main site by passing through a beautiful corridor lined with craggy old Milkwood trees, such as this one:

First view of the lower level past the trees:

The main site consists of three levels. Here you can see all three - the bottom one with the red flowers [Watsonias?] in the foreground; the middle one slightly above with the small stone table; and the third one further up with the flag poles:

To the trained eye there is apparently evidence that a new (British) fort was built on the ruins of the ill-fated Dutch one. Since that time, the site has been a dumping ground and a tennis lawn among other things, before being allowed to grow wild. 

Today it is pretty and tranquil:

 Looking down from the third level. Main Road is just below those trees and then ... the ocean!

 A magnificent playground for kids!

I sneaked a pic of J in between the historical record-taking.

Chris took us a short way up the mountain (short, but oh so very steep!) to the site of another small Dutch fort.

Finally, we went up even further (to probably just below Boyes Drive), where the "Pandours" (native soldiers) would keep a lookout for ships getting too close to the shore.

We went up through a tunnel that could have been in Middle Earth:

The view from up there was amazing!

I had to take a breather. That was steep!

From up here the Pandours could see the whole of False Bay. Today you get a lovely view of Muizenberg beach:


And that is the story of our Saturday morning tour! If you want to go on a tour to find out about this fascinating part of our history yourself, contact Chris on 082 908 3456 or send him an email.

Friday 6 July 2012


For a while now my hubby and I have been talking about making a "volcano cake". A friend of ours made the suggestion when we were discussing what we wanted for our wedding cake, and while it was obviously* not an option for the wedding, we decided to give it a try anyway.

We thought we'd make it for J's 30th birthday party, but we sort of lost track of time and didn't get around to practising it beforehand. So we only made the first prototype this week (his birthday was on Wednesday) and we never got around to organising an actual party.

We started with a rather elaborate plan, involving a lot of cake-carving and icing glue. Here it is, stuck up on our fridge. Note the lightbulb and cable; also the bride and groom caketopper.

Then I found a better idea on the internet, and bought a large ring cake mould. I borrowed my mom's smaller ring cake mould and then I was ready to go!

I filled the big mould a bit too much and we ended up with overspill of cake lava (which was quickly eaten - the dogs got some too!).

Fudge (our aptly-named dog) waited very optimistically during the proceedings.

Yay! Our little cake mountain!

I made the icing and then J put it all together. First he joined the two layers with apricot jam as we weren't sure there was enough icing. Then he covered everything with chocolatey goodness.

We peopled our volcano with jelly babies. Are they innocent villagers fleeing the coming destruction or malicious worshippers of the volcano's power? How can we tell them apart?

A sacrifice was made to appease the fire gods. Anthropologists will no doubt be studying this phenomenon for years to come.

A close-up of the perpetrators. It seems the hapless victim managed to cling to dear life with his toes (can you see them?). Let's hope he made it! 

Ultimately, our goal is something like this. One day we'll try again and maybe we'll get a bit further towards actual volcano-ness.

* Not so obvious to hubby, however.

Thursday 17 May 2012

Of bees and wild things

Maurice Sendak died on 8 May, and since then it seems you can't go far on the internet without running into something about him or Where the Wild Things Are. I've never been that much of a Sendak person (Wild Things wasn't part of my childhood library), but all this talk of him has reminded me of a book that was, albeit briefly, part of my childhood and has stuck in my mind ever since.

I believe I read it (or more accurately, had it read to me) while we were in Sweden visiting family. I was five and it was the coldest winter in decades. We had a short stay in a ski cabin in the woods, where the snow piled up to the windowsills and we stayed indoors as much as possible (except for a few disasterous – for me – ventures outside to attempt skiing). My mom had brought along a few books I believe she picked out at the Västerås library, one of which was this one:

The Bee-Man of Orn has been at the back of my mind ever since then. I could never remember the title, but I knew I would recognise the cover if I saw it. And at some point a few years back I made the connection between the illustrations of the “monster book” I wasn't interested in and those of the book I couldn't get out of my head.

Google Maurice Sendak and you'll mostly find images of Wild Things. Try to find an obscure book about a man who possibly had something to do with bees and Google's not much help. On Sendak's Wikipedia page I found what I was looking for by trawling through the rather long list of books he authored or illustrated, right at the bottom of his page. The Bee Man of Orn doesn't have it's own Wikipedia page, but there is a page for the story's author, Frank R. Stockton. A little more research reveals that the story is quite a strange one, but apparently Stockton was known for writing unusual stories. And that's probably why it's haunted me all these years. The combination of the absurd story and Sendak's vivid illustrations made for quite a memorable book. And now that I've rediscovered it, I feel I can finally put it to rest.

But trying to track down this particular childhood memory lead me to another discovery...

Perhaps I'm not such a huge fan of Maurice Sendak because I'm not American. It seems that every American child has Where the Wild Things Are on her bookshelf (along with a copy of Goodnight Moon and The Giving Tree, both of which I first heard about as an adult). But in my search for “my” Sendak book, I discovered a lot of beautiful and fanciful images from other of his works, and now I'm intrigued.

I may have, *ahem*, gone overboard with all the images here, but look at the diversity of styles and the imagination! Hover over the images for names of the works they are from.
Charlotte and the White Horse

Sendack's take on "The Hobbit"

Dear Millie

Mr Rabbit and the Lovely Present

The Griffin and the Minor Canon

Snow White

What do you do Dear?

The Big Green Book

The Big Green Book

The Big Green Book

Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water

Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water

The Wheel on the School

Concept art for The Nutcracker ballet

The Animal Family

He was a big fan of Mozart and of opera, apparently:

He collaborated on a children's book version of Brundibar, a Czech-Jewish children's opera with a fascinating and tragic history, and co-created the sets for recent performances.

There's so much more to Sendak than Max and his monsters. And while I still don't feel the need to actually read Where the Wild Things Are (as opposed to just paging through looking at the pictures as I've done before), I do now want to get hold of some of his less famous books. I've ventured a bit further than The Bee-Man, and now I have a whole new list of books to find.

Incidentally, in my search I came across a more recent take on the The Bee-Man of Orn, illustrated by P.J.Lynch, which looks just as good, so I might have to find that too.

Sunday 6 May 2012

A special morning

This morning was very special. My husband and I woke at about 6am - still dark in wintery Cape Town - to the sounds of an owl outside our window. We listened for a few moments and then J got up and peered through the curtains.

"It's right here on the garage roof!"

I clambered out of bed and looked, and there it was. A big dark shape on the roof. My husband went off to fetch his new telescope but before he returned the owl had flown off.

Disappointed, I climbed back into the warm bed, but J, setting up the telescope at the window anyway, soon said, "There it is! On top of the pine tree!"

There is a huge pine tree in a garden across the road, and perched rather precariously on the very top little branch, was our owl. Now with our telescope lined up, we could take a proper look. It was a beautiful big bird with long, thin ears and huge talons. It sat facing away from us, but occasionally it would turn its head and we could see its face. It was too dark to really make out its colouring, but later we found a similar-looking bird in my mother's bird guide: a Cape Eagle Owl. Sadly it was too dark to get a photo, but this will give you an idea of what we saw:

The wind was blowing lightly and the large owl had to perform quite a balancing act on its little perch. Before long it flew off. We could still hear its ghostly "Hoo hooo" near the house, but we couldn't see it.

I went back to bed for a second time, but J, wide awake now, took the telescope to the upper deck at the back of the house to look at the moon. You see, we are now experiencing a supermoon, with the full moon at the biggest it will be this whole year. Yesterday night we had lain outside on the roof to look at it and it was so bright we could barely see any stars! (J did see an impressive shooting star, though - part of an annual meteor shower that was mostly eclipsed by the moon.) The moon was so bright in fact that it hurt our eyes, and this morning, when I got out of bed for the third (but not final) time, I took my sunglasses along to watch the moon go down.

It was huge and bright and dazzling, and watching it sink behind the mountain was quite awe-inspiring. We took turns watching it through the telescope as it edged away bit by bit. And then it was gone and you would never have known there had been a giant moon hovering over the mountain a few moments before.

And then, with the sun starting to rise, we went back to bed (third time for me) for a last little bit of sleep before getting up for church. A very special, magical morning.