“Oh my God, how was it?” is the phrase put to me most often today. I have just arrived home from a quick ten-day trip to Europa, to celebrate the momentous occasion of my Opa’s 85th birthday in Austria. My father hails from a small (ish), rural (ish) town called Dornbirn in the East of Austria. From the balcony of my grandparents’ home we look over the Swiss mountains and the Bodensee, which separates Germany from Austria.
“Caramel popcorn!” Claire shouts gleefully. “I taste caramel popcorn.” Toomuchloveliness, sitting on her right, nods enthusiastically. Baas, the Beau Joubert viticulturist, sits on my left. He cocks an eyebrow and takes a sip of the Sav Blanc in question. He doesn’t seem entirely convinced by the caramel popcorn hypothesis.
Saturday dawned warm and sunny in Cape Town, after a week of premature winter rains. Beau Joubert had invited me to join them for a stomp and sip day on the gorgeous farm near Stellenbosch, which lies at the end of a long oak lane. Hence their ‘Oak Lane’ wine range. Clever, no?
We were told we would need to work for our lunch and they weren’t lying. Baas handed us each a crate and a pair of shears and gave us twenty minutes to fill it with bunches of the plump, purple grapes which hid amongst the rows if vine leaves in front of us. He may have said something about watching our fingers because the scissors were sharp. Listen, he wasn’t kidding. I took a nice chunk out of my finger and fairly shortly afterwards gave up on my crate. If it’s full enough for Simba, it’s full enough for me.
A tractor came to carry our (heavy) crates down the hill and we all traipsed into the cellar to watch this super interesting contraption at work. The grape bunches are fed in one end of the machine, the fruit stripped off the stalks and the branches spat out one end while the grapes sent off to the big tanks. The light in there wasn’t great, but I attempted a video and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the process.
The big tanks holding the grapes are about chest height and big enough to swim in, which is exactly what happened next. Foolishly, I had (legitimately) left swimming things at home so I stood on the sides snapping pictures in the gloomy light and trying not to get caught in the inevitable grape fight which broke out. Any photos from inside were utterly useless but Nikki is both braver and far more talented than I am, and she got close enough to get some pretty great shots.
Finally, we got to the important part. The part with the drinking and the eating. My favourite part of any day. I’m not a big wine drinker, despite having parents who wine lovers and who spent much of my childhood in the tasting rooms of various wine farms, while I played on the grass outside with the farm dogs. Happy years. Natalie is much better at wine than me, so if you’re looking to get into this fine art check out her myth-busting tips here. Despite my inexperience, I was really chuffed to be part of the first group of people to ever taste their newly bottled sparkling wine. It needs another year or two in the bottle before it will be ready for sale, at which point you should jump for a bottle because it is amazing.
Me, I was just happy with a plate of good food, endless cheese and great company. Super thanks to Beau Joubert for hosting us, it was a really beautiful day. Next year, I’ll be the first one on that tank! Thank you to Andrew, Lydia, Baas Ian, Christian and Elzanne for a being such good sports and gracious hosts.
Be sure to check out their website, they also have a stunning cottage and are close enough to Cape Town for a quick weekend getaway which won’t break the petrol-bank. You can find them on the Old Polkadraai Road in Stellenbosch, near La Provence.
Hosting a book club theoretically seems like a great idea but actually making it happen is tough. People are busy. It is impossible to find a date that suits everyone, everyone lives in different areas etcetera etcetera.
So, let’s call this Plan B. The Digital Bookclub. At the end of each month, everyone reviews the book(s) they have read in the past thirty days and we compile a list, which can be shared around (copy and paste, with credits) to whichever social platform you prefer.
Easy, no? I’ll go first. If you have a book review you’d like to share, you can do one or all of the following things:
1. Comment here with your review.
2. Comment here with a link to your review.
3. Email me and I’ll add it to this post! firstname.lastname@example.org
The Valley of Amazement (Amy Tan)
I had high hopes for this book. Old Asia is one of my favourite, favourite genres and this book is set in the world of Chinese courtesan’s in the early 1900’s. Violet is the daughter of Lulu Minturn, the American madam of Shanghai’s most exclusive courtesan house and one of the few places in the city where Chinese and Western businessmen can mingle comfortably. Violet’s life is unconventional but idyllic, as she grows up surrounded by staff and courtesans. Her American father is dead, her mother tells her. Her Westerness is a point of pride for Violet, a privileged foreigner in a country ruled by tradition and birth class.
So it is a huge shock to her when, during a sibling-like quarrel, one of the courtesan’s reveals that Violet’s father was Chinese. Suddenly her identity is thrown into turmoil, worsened by her mother’s sudden decision to leave Shanghai for her home shores of the United States of America. She is going in search of a son she thought to be lost forever. But in an unhappy twist, Lulu is scammed by the lover who had promised to organise papers for Violet and the young teenager is left behind in Shanghai, sold as a virgin to a low-grade courtesan house while her mother sails away from Shanghai harbour.
The next part of the story follows Violet, through her life as a courtesan and the many twists and turns along the way. It’s a good read and beautifully written, as one comes to expect of Amy Tan. The story never stagnates and as one chapter ends, the next starts a new adventure. The pages are filled with drama and excitement and the kind of situations unimaginable to us, but I’m sure not uncommon to courtesan’s in the 1900’s.
What did gripe me, though, is how placidly the characters accept what happens to them. The Minturns are portrayed as strong, proud women but when the going gets tough, they just stand and let it happen to them. Which didn’t convince me; I couldn’t reconcile their reactions to how I had been introduced to their characters. I don’t believe that Lulu Minturn would so easily let go of her daughter or that Violet, when she finds herself in similar circumstances years later, would so easily let go of hers.
I didn’t enjoy Violet’s character very much either. There is no discernible difference between fourteen year old Violet and adult Violet. Her character remains immature, perhaps more so because of the constant maternal presence of her courtesan mentor. There is very little depth to her, with such a traumatic life one would expect an inner turmoil or deep emotions but the narrative is shallow.
It was a pleasant read but it’s not going to make my top ten of the year.
Dark Places (Gillian Flynn)
My other favourite genre. I love a good mystery novel. And this one is pretty good.
Libby Day is the sole survivor of a mass murder in her family farm house, which took the lives of her mother and two sisters. It was Libby’s testimony at the age of seven, the only eye-witness, which put her teenage brother behind bars for the Satanic murders. Now, twenty four years later, Libby is (to put it bluntly) a bit of a fuck up. She has been living off the donations of concerned strangers but as people’s interest in her story runs out, so does the money.
With limited options available to her, Libby agrees to the only job offer that has come her way: to appear at the annual Kill Club conference, a group obsessed with murders and murderers and solving them. The Kill Club is convinced that Ben Day is innocent and that Libby was mistaken, too young at the age of seven to fully comprehend what was happening. They also believe that she is the only one who can exonerate Ben.
So Libby, reluctantly and despite her conviction that it was her brother she heard in the house that night, undertakes (for pay, of course) to make contact with various estranged relatives to try and determine what actually happened that night. Including her brother, Ben.
I like Gillian Flynn. I was engrossed in this book, I enjoyed being able to read about the people involved and then what had happened to them 24 years later. How the lives people, who have been so closely connected to such a horrific crime, eventually turn out. The ending is a bit of a letdown, somehow. It didn’t make much sense to me and I like a book that leaves me with my adrenaline pumping.
Definitely worth a read if you’re into the crime genre, aaaaaand it’s being made into a movie! To be released this year. I’m already annoyed that Charlize Theron is taking on the role of Libby, when Libby’s shortness is mentioned numerous times in the book and both impedes and aids her in various dangerous situations. And Charlize is not short.
Anyway. Happy reading!
I read eleven and a half books in December. I read fast and I relax well. Very well. I’m really very good at it.
1. Watching You by Michael Robotham (6/10)
Eh. That basically sums up my review. Eh. A year after Marnie Logan’s husband goes missing, she finds a book that he was putting together for her. It is filled with interviews of people she once knew, teachers and friends etc, who all express their fear of her and ask her husband not to reveal their whereabouts to Marnie. She is very confused, as she has no memory of ever fighting with any of them.
The writing is okay, not bad. It’s quite drawn out, which wasn’t really necessary. I like my crime novels to be fast-paced and exciting. And the story? I wasn’t convinced.
2. The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb (9/10)
Beautiful and I loved it. But this is my genre. The story is set in Hanoi, Vietnam and tells the tale of an elderly Pho seller. Old Man Hung makes the most famous Pho in the city. These days he sells it from a cart but before the war he had a cafe, which was frequented by the famous artists and poets of the area. Maggie is a Vietnamese-American woman who left the country as a child to escape the war, but who has returned now to try and find some information about her father who had been an artist.
The story flows beautifully, over the hills of the nearby villages and through the streets of old and new Hanoi. Old Man Hung is alive in the pages and the story tells a history mostly unknown to our western ears. Really worth a read, it was a moving story.
3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (10/10)
I love John Green. I read a lot of his this December. Although he writes Young Adult stories about teenagers, the writing is utterly fantastic and for his words alone you should read his work. He puts together sentences like you would never have imagined it and they are perfect. His writing is the equivalent of a perfectly tailored piece of clothing, compared to a t-shirt from Mr Price.
The Fault in Our Stars is about Hazel, a kid with terminal cancer. One day she meets Augustus Waters, who has come along to a Cancer Kid support group to support his friend. To put it in her words, “”I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, then all at once.”
Just read it. And then read everything else he has ever written.
4. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (9/10)
In a similar vein as John Green, the love tale of two misfit teenagers. Eleanor is the new kid in school and she is weird. As weird as they come. Park has lived in the neighbourhood forever and sat in the same seat on the bus forever. When Eleanor has nowhere to sit, Park reluctantly allows her to sit next to him.
It is the start (the slow start) of a relationship between two people, different in every way. It is wonderful, refreshing and the kind of story you never want to finish reading.
5. The Giver by Lois Lowry (9/10)
I read this book years ago. And I mean, yeeeears ago. And while I have never forgotten the story line for thew life of me I couldn’t recall the author or the title of the book. Until one day in November I was reading a Buzzfeed article about books everyone should read, and there it was. It caught me by such surprise that I read over the article three times to make sure. And then I ran home to my kindle.
It’s a YA SciFi novel. Another of my favourite genres. In a world where everything is controlled to the nth degree, where memory has been destroyed and the inhabitants know nothing of colour or pain or freedom, Jonas is coming of age. In his 12th year, he will be told what his occupation will be for the rest of his life. But during the ceremony, the unthinkable happens. They skip him. His name is not called.
What happens next will change not only his own life, but the very essence of his people. It is a fascinating book. A look at life in a totalitarian state, beyond anything we have experienced. A really great, albeit quick, read.
6. Water Music by Margie Orford (5/10)
Awful. I’m sorry to say it, seeing as how she’s the only local author on my list but this one was awful. I would have given her a four but I added a point to balance out my bias. I have read all of her books and have always been aware that her geography is not exactly accurate, but have been able to move past it. Not this time.
This book is set in Hout Bay, my childhood home, but not a Hout Bay that I recognise. It is the story of a young woman who goes missing around the same time that a young, starving child is found strapped to a tree in the forest. The two incidents seems unrelated at first (or they should have, but the ‘mystery’ was weak) until eventually Orford’s heroine Clare Hart starts to piece together the puzzle.
I finished it but grew increasingly frustrated (angry, even) with how inaccurately she wrote about Hout Bay. As a long time resident, none of it made sense to me and it pissed me off sufficiently to really not enjoy the book.
7. Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry (7/10)
The follow up to The Giver, the second in the trilogy, follows an entirely different community and heroine. Which disappointed me a little because I was really looking forward to seeing where Jonas and Gabriel ended up.
In another totalitarian state, though one much rougher than the first, Kira has just lost her mother. Her last remaining parent. She has a disabled leg and as she makes her way home from her vigil at her mother’s grave, she is afraid of what will face her in her village. She already knows that her home has been burnt down and that other women in the area want to claim her land.
But what Kira doesn’t expect, is that the elders of her village have recognized her skills as a threader and they take her in in exchange for her skills. Her world changes completely and she begins to uncover the dark secrets of her village.
It’s another great book, but perhaps more childish than the first and I sped through it with less satisfaction than I had hoped for.
8. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (9/10)
This is a classic, one which I had tried to start before but never paid enough attention to. It is the timeless story of a young girl, documenting her life in a journal. Cassandra lives in a tumbledown old castle with her eccentric, reclusive, once-famous father; her stepmother, brother, sister and the son of their long-deceased maid. In a quiet town in the English countryside, just as the family has reached the end of their financial means, the arrival of a new American neighbor causes quite a stir in the lives of the Mortmain family.
It’s Little Women, but funnier and with less intensity. A really enjoyable bedtime read.
9. Paper Towns by John Green (9/10)
John Green. Oh, Mr Green. My least favourite of his books is still one of the best reads of my summer. Quentin has lived next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman his whole life and has loved her just as long, but when she climbs through his window one night it is the first time he has spoken to her in years. Since the day they found a dead man under a tree. On this night, Margo takes Quentin on an all-night adventure of revenge.
The next day, Margo doesn’t come to school. A week later she is still missing. Quentin is convinced she has left him clues, as to where he will eventually find her and he undertakes to follow these clues as far as they will take him, all the way to Margo.
It is the story of an unhappy girl and a boy who loves her. And it is heartbreaking, heartwarming and wonderful.
10. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (10/10)
My second favourite of John Green’s books (after The Fault in Our Stars and before Looking for Alaska). Mainly, I think, because I relate so well to Colin Singleton. We are the same, him and I. We are dumpees. We have only ever been dumped. But in his case, it is by Katherines. He has been dumped by nineteen Katherines. In addition to his bad luck with Katherines, he is also a failed child prodigy. A genius who has never reached his potential. These two things send him into a deep depression, which motivates his best friend to bundle him into a car for a road trip. A road trip to distract him and cheer him up.
Along the way, they find themselves in a small, backwater town where they decide to stay. And where both boys discover themselves, their friendship and a lot more about life they didn’t know, they didn’t know.
This book is amazing and I flipping loved it. Go read it, now.
11. (An eleventh book was read. I don’t remember the name. I don’t remember the author. I barely remember the storyline. Basically, a young woman lives with her nerdy, male best friend and is a disastrous dater. Said nerdy best friend asks her and other female friends to make him over and send him out into the world of dating. And then, obvs, she falls in love with him. It was super cheesy and cliched. I read it in a day, on the beach in India and nearly drowned in the fluffiness.)
11 1/2. The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken by Tarquin Hall (7/10)
Picked this baby up in Dubai airport eight hours into a fifteen hour layover, after my tablet ran out of juice thereby rendering my Kindle app irrelevant. I’m only half way through because the second I landed in Cape Town, I never picked it up again, But I will, because it’s one of those funny crime novels which can only be funny because it’s set in India and the Indian nuances are so unique to that culture.
Vish Puri is a private detective who is called to investigate the robbery of the world’s longest moustache, right off the face of it’s proud owner. At the same time, he attends a dinner for the India Premier league Cricket where the father of a celebrated, young Pakistani cricketer drops dead into his butter chicken. And unfortunately for Vish Puri, this case requires him to work with his beloved but tiresome Mummy-ji.
It’s funny and entertaining, but hasn’t managed to keep my attention for very long. Enjoyable read nonetheless!
I don’t like games.
It’s a weird thing, because in every other aspect I’m totally a joiner. But I just don’t like games. I don’t like 30 Seconds or poker or Kings and I really don’t like team-building activities.
Enter the False Bay Firearms Training Academy!
I am the most junior person in my office. Still. A year later. But as soon as I heard “department team bonding”, I jumped. And somehow, god knows how, I managed to convince my entire department that learning how to shoot guns was the best team-building activity everrr.
And then I convinced the big bosses and finance too.
If you are looking to learn to shoot a gun and you don’t mind a scenic drive, I highly recommend the False Bay Firearms Training Academy which is located in the beautiful Glencairn Quarry. We were looking for somewhere pretty and nearby to good food and this place ticks all the boxes.
It was an overcast, damp day which began with a quick lunch at Dixie’s (fresh mussels, monster racks of ribs and juicy steaks). Our instructor, Keith, met us at the quarry for two hours of loud, adrenaline-pumping fun. There are several different options available and we picked option 4, at R350 a head for a minimum of six people, which included the following:
20 x handgun (at paper scoring targets or steel plates) — Pistol 9mm
10 x rifle (at balloons and steel plates) — M16 or Ak47
The shot makeup is as follows:
15 x handgun (at scoring target) — Pistol 9mm – Glock and CZ75 –
Shot count made up of — 10 x slow shots for accuracy.
10 x shots “gangster style” – also for score
10 x rifle (at steel plates and scoring paper targets) – LM4 or Ak47
5 x shots per rifle – LM4 has std sights and AK has a red dot tactical sight — so score = X steel plate hits + paper scoring
Plus 10 clays pigeons using a semi-automatic shotgun.
Packages include the following:
Club entry, Use of safety equipment, use of firearms and ammunition (under supervision), Instruction (Training program – safety and shooting techniques ) – followed by shooting for fun and then for a score.
If you’re looking for something different to do for your year-end function, I highly recommend this and Keith. He was awesome. The whole day was awesome and so much fun. The biggest skeptics turned out to be the best shots and the biggest mouths (me) turned out to be the worst.
But hey, no black eye this time!
For more information, contact Keith on email@example.com or check out their website here.