Friday 14 February

A grey, overcast day but considerably cooler than the previous days this week.  I walked down to the SPAR with a sense of anticipation.  Yesterday, passing the deep freeze I noticed frozen tripe packed into a neat ball. When I remarked on this, the assistant said, “On Fridays we make curried tripe.”

It is with this in mind that I set off to the SPAR this morning but I am informed that the tripe is not ready yet. “But I phoned and I was told that the tripe was ready,” I protest.

The young bi-racial man behind the counter is gay, and his hair is piled up in a bundle on the crown of his head. I wondered how he fared among the women who served the take-away hot foods, but he seemed perfectly at ease as he moved in and out of the kitchen. This confirms my impressions of Darling: a tolerant people, well-mannered and friendly. I was disappointed though at being misinformed about the tripe.  The young man said the tripe would be ready at 10 am.  (I think I should switch to present tense).

Returning home I find a suspicious-looking email in my inbox, informing me that an instant deposit will be made once I fill out the necessary forms (attached). I forward it to the Absa security department. Minutes later I receive an automated reply that they are investigating the email to establish whether or not it is a phishing scam. I lean back and stare out the window at the terracotta-coloured house across the road. I feel safe in Darling. This suspicious email is from the outside world; the outside world is dangerous and menacing. Click on this link and your banking account will be raided … you will lose everything you possess … just click on this link … please … just click on this link …

Click on the link, and I will face ruination. “She will sit like patience on a monument, smiling at grief.”

My second visit to the SPAR is a triumph.  I am walking down the aisle when a young assistant pauses, turns around and offers me the sweetest greeting. Moments later I find myself asking another girl, barely out of her teens, for assistance. I am in search of paper towels?  Paper towels?  Certainly ‘meneer’. I follow her and the leads me to the paper towels, pointing at the towel rack with a slender brown fingers as if pointing me in the direction of Valhalla itself. She smiles.  I remember it is Valentine’s Day. Unwittingly she has presented me with a Valentine’s card, or perhaps a rose. But no, it was merely a smile, and she smiles like that at everyone and there is no rose, only the paper towels.

There is something to be feared about small towns. I caution myself not to get carried away.  I tend to idealise things. I tend to see things that are not there.

My friend from the city, one of the circle of friend with whom I watched rugby on Saturdays at van Hunks in Kloof Street, Cape Town went to his partner’s family farm at Langebaan on the Cape West Coast (about 40 minutes’ drive from Darling). His partner, who lectures in art at the local university, is not interested in rugby so he went on his own to the local pub.  He sat at the bar and soon enough the bloke sitting next to him introduced himself, “I’m Jan Meyer.”  They shook hands and my friend introduced himself. Soon afterwards another bloke arrived and sat down next to Jan Meyer. “Gert, meet M. – he’s from Cape Town.” And so M met Gert. He wondered how many more would join their circle when all he wanted to do was just watch the rugby match – instead of which he now had to explain that he was an architect and then he had to feign interest when they told him what they did for a living, and he got gradually sucked into their quotidian world that they imagined a stranger might find interesting when all my friend wanted to do was watch the rugby. He had no desire to meet Gert, or Jan, or anyone for that matter.

Listening to BBC Radio 3 I prick up my ears as the presenter mentions a new Tom Stoppard play about the Jews of Vienna who desperately wanted to become ‘Austrian’ at the turn of the 20th century.  It is my time … that time …that time at the turn of the 20th century. I always return to it. She presenter mentions Sigmund Freud, Mahler, Alma Mahler, and Gustav Klimt.

This is what the London Theatre Direct’s website had to say:

“At the turn of the twentieth century, Vienna was the liveliest metropolis in all of Europe, buzzing with intellectual activity, artistic talent, and living life to the fullest. Ten per cent of the population was Jewish and just a generation before them, Emperor Franz Josef granted Jews full civil rights. As such, thousands upon thousands had fled from the Pale of Settlement in Imperial Russia and from the pogrom riots, finding sanctuary in the crowded slum dwellings of the Jewish Ghetto known as Leopoldstadt.

Taking its name from the old Viennese Jewish district, Tom Stoppard’s Leopoldstadt play tells the intimate tale of a Jewish family that has done well for themselves. “My grandfather used to wear a caftan,” says factory owner Hermann, “My father would wear a top hat to the opera, and I would have the singers over for dinner.

However, as we all know, this beautiful life would not last. Less than half a century later, this family and millions of other Jewish families would find out first-hand what it really meant to be Jewish in the 20th century.”


The clouds have vanished. Darling is once again bathed in sunshine.