Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pony Show

I learned to ride as a child. Living in the country it was what girls did and riding was an afternoon activity once a week at school. All the girls rode, so I did too. I was OK at it, but never in the prize winning league. My memories include: being unable to convince ‘my’ pony to go over any jumps ever; being left hanging from a low branch by another pony determined to find the shortest way home on a cross country ride; and losing a toenail when a dozy horse accidentally lent on my foot when I was holding him the stableyard. I’m sure there were good bits too, trotting along country lanes, spending time grooming and catching ponies instead of having to play football on riding afternoons, but of course it is always the dramatic incidents that burn themselves in Technicolor on the brain.

I left riding behind as I moved into my teens and my only subsequent close encounter with a horse years later in Italy left me with a broken rib, when I fell off it rather gracefully as it shied at a pheasant and bolted for home.

Our son was fascinated with horses as a toddler, but when he had the chance of a pony ride at the age of four or five, refused even to get on one. His sister followed suit and, as he turned out to be allergic to horses, learning to ride was never on the agenda, even though we live in the country with a dozen studs and horse farms around us.

It was Youngest who seemed to have been born with the intention to ride. This year after a couple of years of wistful reminders, I finally got it together and organized riding lessons for her. Middle Daughter took two weeks of watching to decide that she wanted to learn too. Son had one lesson and no more, due to lack of any real interest, although he was actually pretty good.

So this last year I have had to rediscover ponies almost from scratch. I started off fairly tentatively, holding the ponies while the girls mounted, and being dragged off to whichever succulent patch of vegetation attracted their interest. Last week I finally found that I’d made a massive leap of confidence around them. I took the two girls to their second pony show at their riding school on my own, as a pressing engagement with a rugby match kept the boys at home. Youngest had opted to enter the best walk and trot off the lead class, but Middle daughter, less confident, went for the on the leading rein classes. Both wanted to do the pole on the ground class, where they go round a jumping course on the lead rein, but with all the jumps at ground level.

It was one of the few gorgeous sunny days, we’ve had this spring. Even at eight thirty in the morning it was warm in the sun, but still chilly in the shade of the pines along the side of the show ring. Ponies accumulated, riders searched out riding hats and numbers and consulted the list to see who they were riding. Parents got out folding chairs and picnic boxes and bagged a spot in the shade.

First off Middle Daughter was on Rane, a little grey pony. It was my duty to lead him round the ring and eventually persuade him into a trot. It felt more like being a tow truck as he started off resisting all efforts to do more than walk fast with his neck sticking out horizontally, while I tried to run in the deep sand. Eventually he obliged for a short stretch, just long enough for her to show off her rising trot and for me to reacquaint myself with my running muscles.

Later on, the pole on the ground event made me realize just how unfit I am. Persuading Rane to trot over a course of ten jumps in soft sand had my lungs protesting at this unaccustomed demand for their services. We got around without any mishap, though I’d wondered if I would make the last jump… Youngest was supposed to go on next, but the riding teacher took one look at me and sent someone else out. As I tried to look cool and unpuffed, I was given away by a tickly cough from the recesses of those poor abused lungs. Luckily my husband had arrived by then, jubilant after a triumphant finale to the Tri-nations rugby series. I handed over the reins without any more ado and it was him who led Youngest and Ginger round the course, her confidently telling him which way to go, as he hadn’t had a chance to walk the course.

The girls were thrilled with their rosettes, a first place for Youngest and second for Middle Daughter in the walk, and fourth place for both in the trot. I reckoned all the mothers (not many Dads there due to the rugby match) deserved rosettes too for their clear rounds over the poles. I’m going to have to get in training before the next show.. pony boot camp anyone?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fighting Chance

Traditional weapons aren't much use when the cowboys come to town. But if you're lucky they'll give you a sporting chance and fight fair. Duelling swords at dawn....

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Up The Cloudy Mountain

Going up Table Mountain in the cable car is an annual treat. A treat because it’s expensive to ride in the cable car. You can walk up the mountain for free, but riding the cable car is priced for tourists and taking the whole family up is a major financial investment.

Revolving 360 degrees slowly over the 5 minute trip in the car, you dangle over precipitous heights and see the city shrink in size as you whiz up the cable towards vertical cliffs at the top. The ocean spreads out before you and the coast stretches away into the distance, our line of three hills identifiable in a misty haze of blue outlines halfway along the map.

It’s a gamble planning a day up the mountain especially in spring. Children go free in winter, so we always try to plan for a trip up then, but it has to be a last minute decision. Weather forecasts get it wrong, fickle winds blow up a tablecloth of cloud onto our mountain, when all around is clear. Rain can sweep in and wash a stream of tourists back into the cable car in a miserable huddle.

The children determined on Granny’s visit as the best time for our trip up the mountain. Ambitious plans for walking up for the first time ever this year were shelved after the flu broke out and the kids all took a long time to recover. The soft option it would be, once the weather obliged. The middle week of Granny’s visit was submerged by rain and trumped by our son’s turn at having flu. The last week started off wet too, but looked set to clear up. She would be leaving on Friday. Thursday it would have to be, if at all possible.

We packed the kids off to school in an optimistic mood. Cool, still and clear, the morning would be bound to warm up. The top of Table Mountain was a clean outline against the horizon as we drove back from school later. We downed our lunch hurriedly and set off, armed with fleeces and jackets too. A thermos of hot chocolate nestled in a rucksack to succour us up aloft.

Patches of cloud wafted over us as we drove towards Cape Town, the mountain always in sight. We kept a close eye on it to make sure that it wouldn’t change its mind and sulk, shrugging a blanket of cloud around its shoulders and turning its back on the world. We got closer and closer, our fingers aching with being crossed, but still the sun showed a firm line of flat mountain top ahead.

Lugging a panoply of jackets, we hardly had to queue any time for tickets, even though there were plenty of tour buses parked. A slight setback, when we found that they’d changed the rules and children are now only free on weekends and public holidays in winter, was eased by using our Wild card which gave us a discount on all the tickets. Surrounded by a group of Japanese tourists we climbed into the cable car and swept grandly and gloriously up the side of the mountain… into wisps of cloud. In those few minutes while we paid for our tickets the notorious tablecloth had swept up the back of the mountain and swirled over the top, draping elegantly over the edge just a little all round.

We emerged into a chill dampness and piled on all our jackets, feeling slightly smug as we watched T-shirted tourists shivering as they strode bravely around the paths.

Tantalizing glimpses of Cape Town in bright sunshine were visible over the edge of the precipice, bright blue ocean contrasted with the grey all around and above. The kids started off happily enough, climbing on rocks and peering over the edge, but eventually the fun of that was muted by being cold. So we found a rock to shelter us from the chilly wind that seemed to come from all directions at once and drank hot chocolate with special cookies from Inge’s deli, bought by my Mum and sister-in-law on a foray to Kalk Bay the day before.

The best packaging I've ever seen on hand-made cookies and great tasting too ... in fact I ate most of these ones!

Luckily Youngest had brought a glove puppet up with her. Perfect to warm Granny's hands...

Every now and again the light would brighten and sun would attempt to burn through the thin layer of cloud that enveloped us. We’d cheer it and encourage it, trying with the force of our minds to transform it into a sunny afternoon, but we weren’t quite strong enough a match for the wind and cloud.

They re-asserted themselves and after a brisk walk around the marked paths and a clamber over some tempting rocks, we called it a day.

We’ve been up the mountain for this year and at least we’ll always remember this one. It can’t be a bad thing for kids to experience what it’s like on a mountain in cold and fog and get an idea of what real winter is like in colder climes than ours!

The next day dawned warm and bright and, as I drove my mother to the airport, Table Mountain taunted us with its crisp, cloud-free profile, looking as if butter wouldn’t melt.

This post from two years ago has pictures of what it should ideally be like up on Table Mountain in the sunshine!

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Birthday Spoils

Some birthdays are painful reminders of the years passing, hurtling you onwards into incipient middle age. But they can be opportunities for three days of pampering and indulgence, the equivalent of a spring makeover, courtesy of the family pulling out all the stops to spoil you rotten!

That is what I got this year and I feel like a new woman, the wrinkles of age banished by a new haircut, a deep tissue massage to sort out the computer-knotted back and a shopping session with my mother to get some flattering new clothes to replace my baggy old winter uniform of fading jeans and cotton rib Gap pullover from twelve years ago. Not to forget my new film star sunglasses discovered in a sale next door to the hairdresser and secured as a pressie by a hurried sms to my husband.

Thus fortified I took the rest of the day off work and drifted around in a leisurely fashion, stopping by the sofa now and then to throw pills and remedies down our flu-struck son, read my book, planted out the lobelia and pansies that the children bought me to replace my unfortunate nasturtiums and had a photo session with a professional photographer (whose services I acquired for life by marrying him), to capture the glamorous new look, before the careful hairdresser blow-dry was lost forever.

The evening saw a flurry of activity in the kitchen as my two sisters-in-law and mother cooked dinner for all the grown-ups and my husband rustled up sausage and mash for the two healthy children. I was surplus to requirements and so took the unusual luxury of a late-afternoon shower to get the compost from under my fingernails and then went and watched Willow with the children while the others finished getting dinner ready. It was delicious too – tender oxtail stew and chicken and mushrooms with an abundance of fresh organic vegetables brought that afternoon from Spier.

And then a whole weekend to recover from being so spoilt and gradually resume my usual household duties, before Monday demanded the juggling act of work, children and cooking once more.

I hesitated to post this, as it sounded like a birthday gloat when I re-read it, but I want to make sure everyone knows how much my birthday spoiling is appreciated, and now reality is back in place again I want to remind myself of how good it felt too!

Our son is almost recovered from the flu now and starting to boss us all around again, which is a sign of return to normal.